It will be a proud day for Cratloe if the Liam McCarthy is brought home to Clare – a world away from the time when this corner of the county was home to long-suffering supporters, as the late and great Irish Times journalist, Dick Walsh memorably recalled back in 1985.
BRENDAN Behan once said about farming that in Holland it was a science, in England a hobby and in Ireland a bloody misfortune. This was roughly how my father felt about hurling.
He admired the skill and pride of Cork and Tipperary. He even grudgingly applauded Limerick’s ability to pull on the ball, first time, on-the-bloody ground, as our city neighbours put it.
It galled him, as he said a thousand times, that we never won the All-Ireland since 1914 or fought our way out of Munster since 1932.
It galled him and yet he followed the team wherever it played, hoping against hope that, somehow, this time the fates would favour us, knowing in his heart that they probably wouldn’t or, if they did, that we were only being set-up to be let down.
Of course, he’d swear that he’d never follow the team again.
I was almost seven when I discovered that this was an idle threat and that next Sunday or next year would find us kneeling on the sideline in the Gaelic Grounds or Cusack Park shouting to the men to mark up, face the ball, to pull, pull, pull, for Jaysus sake.
You’ve heard of people who pray fervently? My father cursed fervently. He’d once refereed a match in Ardnacrusha when the Shannon Scheme was in progress. The foreign engineers and Connemara labourers came to see the game.
His report said that four languages were to be heard: Irish, English, German and bad language. He, himself, was fluent in three of them. He spoke no German!
I have never heard anyone who cursed as fluently as he did and I hardly ever heard him curse except when Clare or Cratloe were playing. I don’t think he was born a pessimist – it was following Clare teams that made him one.
By the time I was old enough to play the game, I knew that he travelled in expectation of defeat. By the time he was too old to travel, I knew that the attitude was hereditary.
My friend, Sean Duignan, takes great delight in telling how, when we’ve been working in some exciting distant places like New York or Copenhagen, he and I invariably end up drinking our Duty Free Paddy at four in the morning while I explained what went wrong this time in the Munster Championship.
“Sure if the Banner ever won an All-Ireland,” siz he, basking in the glory of Galway’s success, “ye wouldn’t know what to do with it”. True enough, when we did win the league for the first time in 33 years, Máirtín MacCormaic and I spent three days trying to find our way from Thurles back to Dublin, by way of Cratloe, The ‘Bridge and Kilkishen.
The 1946 League final was one of the triumphs of my father’s time, particularly when Bob Frost and Pa Quain of Cratloe were on the team. He talked of little else, until we went down in the championship the following year.
Even worse than that disappointment, which I remember vaguely, was our defeat to Limerick in 1955 after we’d beaten Wexford in a great Oireachtas final the year before.
The games against Wexford were among the best I’d ever seen, with Dan McInerney, Dónal O’Grady and Des Dillon playing their hearts out. It was a mighty Wexford team and, for once, my father, in the Hogan Stand at Croke Park was ecstatic.
“We’ll be back for the All-Ireland,” he said, as the train pulled out of Kingsbridge.
We weren’t back for the All-Ireland. Worse of all, it was Limerick who stopped us in the Munster final when Dermot Kelly – “a friend of yours, by God”, my father said salting our wounds – scored a goal and 12 points.
There was no talking to my father for a long while after that. Gradually, though, we settled back into the old rhythm of defeat. ‘Did we win? Is it coddin’ me ye are?’ ‘Ah sure, aren’t we all used to it’. ‘A Shéain Uí Dhuibhir a Ghleanna, we were worsted in the game’.
Maybe Séan Duignan is right. If we won the All-Ireland, we wouldn’t know what to do with it.
I’ll see ye at the next match up the Banner.