AS Saturday comes down the hurling tracks you could say that Clare and Galway are in the same place.

The obvious thing is that they’re two teams out to take the next step to reach the All-Ireland final, but it’s much more than that. They have one All-Ireland apiece, but the second one is all-important.

To explain that thesis, who better than Ger Loughnane, who has managed both Clare and Galway, with his words from 2013 after Clare had reached the mountaintop being apt and relevant to both teams, for whom Liam McCarthy Cup success in 2018 would seal their place in history.

It was in the West County Hotel in Ennis on the night Clare received their All-Ireland medals: “Henry Kissinger said, ‘success buys you a ticket to a more difficult problem’,” he said. 

“You have won an All-Ireland, but one All-Ireland is just a curiosity. It’s the second that makes you great. No matter how well you played this year, no matter that you won the All-Ireland in the most spectacular fashion possible, you will not be regarded as great unless you win another.”

Brendan Bugler, who was there with them in 2013, summed it up earlier this week when saying, “we absolutely loved the place. We felt the shackles were off when we got to Croke Park. There was a sense of achievement already at having got there so there was no real nerves, no anxiety. We never felt any pressure up there,” he added.

Loughnane’s epiphany came after he met Mick O’Dwyer at a function in Ballincollig after the All-Ireland win of 1995. 

“I will never ever forget it,” revealed Loughnane. “Micko stood up and said any team can win an All-Ireland, but it takes a great team to win two.

“Coming home that night it was ringing in my ears. That was the first time it really dawned on me. We have to win the second All-Ireland, because the history of the GAA is dotted with teams that won one All-Ireland.

“What Mick O’Dwyer said is absolutely right. You’ve got to win again. Don’t be distracted, by anyone or anybody. You’ve got to win again. And when you do, and when you drive on, you will be regarded as a great team,” he added.

Loughnane returned to this theme a year later when he was back in the West County Hotel, this time presenting the Clare Under 21 hurlers with their medals after the county’s Munster and All-Ireland three-in-a-row.

This time he quoted Robert Frost — not the former GAA presidential candidate, Munster Council and Clare County Board chairman, but  the Pulitzer Prize winning poet from San Francisco:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, 

and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

“I see you at a crossroads now,” said Loughane addressing the Clare players. “You have three Under 21 medals in your pocket and some of you have All-Ireland senior medals in your pocket, so what path do you choose now,” he said.

“Do you choose the path taken by Limerick Under 21s who won three in a row; numerous Galway teams who won numerous Under 21 All-Ireland. It was path well trodden and as you go along that road you will have many people clapping you in the back. You’ll be led by people who will tell you ‘have a good life, enjoy life, have a few drinks, play other games, join a boy band, have great fun’. That will lead you to a place called Easyville where life will be easy, you’ll tip along and play hurling and you’ll have people say ‘you’re a great lad’ and then when you leave Easyville like Limerick did and like so many Galway teams did, you’ll arrive at a place called Oblivion and no one will remember you.

“The other side of that is the path followed — it’s uphill and it’s tough — by the legends of hurling. Do you take that road or do you take the easy road. That for me is the vital question over the next year or the next two years. That will decide where we take our place. There is a massive gap in the market,” he added.

Galway have filled that gap in the market in the last year on the back of their great run of success — the National League title, back-to-back Leinster titles and the All-Ireland, but Clare, by dint of reaching Croke Park for the first time in five years are at last back in the market.

It’s been an uphill and tough struggle to get back, but the hope for Clare is that once there, they can take flight and make up for the lost years.

Why not?

The quality is there — the All-Ireland winners and All Stars are there, while above all the scope for improvement is there as they face down a Galway side who are considered overwhelming favourites.

One thing for sure is that Clare will have to improve from their quarter-final display, because despite never looking like losing that tie they allowed the Slaneysiders bring it back to a one-score game in the closing stages.

That’s despite the fact that Wexford were dreadful, with their lack of quality summed up in a ten minutes spell in the first half when after getting a number of line-balls they hadn’t the wherewithal or skill to take sideline cut. With Galway and Cork — the teams Clare have to beat — the sliotar would be 90 yards down the field or over the bar.

Clare need to hit the pitch of their first half performance against Cork — it was the best the county had produced since the last time they were in Croke Park, so where better than Croke Park to hit those heights again.

You have to think, or at least hope, that players like Shane O’Donnell, Tony Kelly, Podge Collins, David McInerney, Pat O’Connor, John Conlon, Seadna Morey, Conor McGrath and Cian Dillon can be inspired by what they’ve been part of in Croke Park before.

Brendan Bugler, who was there with them in 2013, summed it up earlier this week when saying, “we absolutely loved the place. We felt the shackles were off when we got to Croke Park. There was a sense of achievement already at having got there so there was no real nerves, no anxiety. We never felt any pressure up there,” he added.

It’s time to throw off those shackles once more and hurl like it’s 2013.

Do that and they can upset the odds and move a step closer to Ger Loughnane’s goal for them.

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