1992 was a good time to land in County Clare, throw down some roots and set up what would be a permanent home in the county town of Ennis.
It so happened to be the week after Clare had beaten Kerry in the Munster football final and suddenly the Banner County’s largest centre of population was jolted out of a long slumber where the big ball was concerned.
It’s true that only six years previously the Townies had been to a county final, but it’s not revisionism to say that something stirred in Ennis in the aftermath of what went down in The Gaelic Grounds on that 19 July afternoon that will be 25 years young in 2017.
Instead, it’s just a statement of fact to say that the seeds for the renaissance of Ennis football were sown in the days, weeks and months after Clare had shook up the world.
The story goes that when the Townies played the first round of the intermediate championship that summer over 50 players presented themselves for duty in Corofin — they may have lost that day, but it was still a beginning.
Another story goes that a couple of months later the county minor A final against Wolfe Tones was being played in Newmarket-on-Fergus — the Townies were underdogs having been well beaten by the Shannon lads earlier in the campaign, but this time they prevailed.
It was lift off.
“Eugene was huge”. Huge to young and old, players and past-players because of what he represented within a club that’s often times labelled as being “a small club in a big town”
Eugene McNamara was part of that county championship winning squad and when the story of the rise to prominence of Éire Óg football comes to be written that group of players managed by John Hickey and the Caffrey brothers, Tim and Declan, will be given a pride of place, just as the contributions of people like Tony Honan, Pat Fitzpatrick, Donie Buckley, James Hanrahan and others to the football story will be.
And, it’s only fitting that Eugene McNamara was part of that trailblazing minor class of ’92 that set the footballs rolling, because while many of us kick or puck a bit of ball and then drift away, he was always around the club and always the epitome of what a great clubman could and should be.
There was no ‘could’ or ‘should’ with Eugene though — he just was.
He took the Junior C team last year and was gearing up to take the Junior A team next year, while in years gone by he was a senior selector. Then there were the jobs of work to be done with the Éire Óg Academy headed up by his twin brother David.
For Eugene it didn’t matter what the grade or code was — he was there, omni-present almost, just because that red geansaí meant so much, and because Éire Óg was a great love of his life as his older brother Stephen, the third generation of All-Ireland winners in the family, pointed out to the congregation gathered in Ennis Cathedral on Sunday.
Of the club, by the club, for the club — hurling or football — just because it couldn’t have been any other way.
Though a passionate Dubs supporter all his life having been born in the capital, Eugene got his football from his famous uncle Ger Power who was Kerry’s All-Ireland winning captain in 1980 and the winner of eight Celtic Crosses in the ‘Golden Years’ from 1975 to ’86, while the hurling came from his grandfather Jackie Power, the Ahane and Limerick legend who won All-Irelands with the Shannonsiders in 1936 and ’40 and coached their last All-Ireland winning side in 1973.
Of course, the hurling came from the McNamara side of the family too, as Johnny ‘Joker’ Coote was on the Clare side that won the All-Ireland Junior title in 1914 and was still hurling 14 years later when winning a county championship medal with the Ennis Dalcassians/Clarecastle combination.
In many ways this dual allegiance is why the entire Éire Óg family was out in such force over the weekend past to pay their respects to their great clubman, who is his own quiet way showed them what club is all about.
Club stalwart and former Mayor of Clare, Cllr Pat Daly, summed up the thoughts of everyone when saying that he’d never seen anything like it — the magnitude of the turnout spoke volumes for town and club, with the guard of honour that lined both sides of Ennis’ Francis Street from Daly’s Funeral Home to Abbey Street numbering up to 150 people being a wonderful tribute to Eugene from the club he had given so much of himself to.
This was the great coming together of the Éire Óg family — a show of solidarity, support and kinship for our great clubman and for his grief-stricken family that you wouldn’t even see on a county final day.
They were there because in the words of his uncle Fr Eddie McNamara during the funeral service, “Eugene was huge”. Huge to young and old, players and past-players because of what he represented within a club that’s often times labelled as being “a small club in a big town”.
Well, thanks to Eugene McNamara Éire Óg became “a huge club in a big town” on Saturday and Sunday last when those young and old, players and past-players, came together as one.
How proud then to be able to say that I kicked a bit of ball with Eugene back in the day, winning a Junior A title with him back in 2001.
Eugene was a corner-back and corner-stone of what was a very good team brought together that year by Liam Miniter and Leonard Keane, one that was sprinkled with bona fide Éire Óg legends like the multiple senior championship winner and Ulster club champion with Castleblayney Faughs in Tom Russell and Alan Malone, who won a Railway Cup medal with Munster only two years previously.
Eugene, who was a legend in his own right, has left us, but his contribution to and love of Éire Óg will never ever be forgotten.
And that’s why many Townies — whether an adopted one like myself or an indigenous of the species going back generations — firmly believe that Eugene will be a giant on Éire Óg shoulders going forward.
Indeed, we got the sense on Saturday and Sunday that he is already.
It’s up to us to honour that presence.
Above: The Éire Óg team that won 2001 Clare Junior A Football Championship in 2001 with the late Eugene McNamara pictured extreme right on the back row.