Clonlara’s greatest day came in Croke Park when along with Cratloe they provided six players to the squad that won the All-Ireland – a contribution from that was recognised in the village last Tuesday, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.
“Just to stand here and watch, you couldn’t buy that feeling, to see what it means to everyone in Clonlara. It’s just a fantastic feeling, it’s pure magic and what dreams are really made of.”
IT’S the Tuesday after the All-Ireland is won and Clonlara is the capital of Clare, with the House of Parliament being the new community hall at the back of the church.
This is Clonlara’s core, its epicentre where you find the strongest pulse and heartbeat. It’s family and community. And hurling, with the hurling field that has spawned the village’s greatest day just outside the door.
“There wasn’t a dry eye among Clonlara people up in Croke Park after the match and the few people that were left at home,” says Jim Gully, manager of the team that brought the first county senior title to the club in 89 years back in 2008.
“It was just so emotional. From young lads you saw come from as young as one and two years of age inside in a buggy going all the way to the top is just phenomenal.
“For the older guys. Fra Moloney was lost for words on Tuesday evening – he couldn’t open his mouth. He was just staring space into, because in a way he just couldn’t believe that these guys had brought it home.”
But they had, with Clonlara providing the greatest contribution of all. ‘Dunny’ ‘Block’ and Colm among the starters, ‘Duck’ and Nicky drafted in, ‘Tots’ on the bench.
That’s what they’re known by in these parts, while to the outside world they’re known as Domhnall O’Donovan, John Conlon, Colm Galvin, Darach Honan, Nicky O’Connell and Cathal O’Connell.
“Unbelievable,” says Gully, “but it just shows you what can be achieved and I go back to when we won the county senior in 2008. Jamesie O’Connor presented the medals and said ‘the thing is to get these players onto the county team, they’re all young, they’re all good, make sure they make an impact’.”
How they’ve taken up the challenge thrown down to them by O’Connor on the night they received their medals in the Raddison Hotel.
“The buzz in the place,” says Gully. “Davy (Fitzgerald) arrives in and he’s just swarmed and he disappears into a mass of kids. That’s special, very special. The smaller kids, the ones going to national school. They just couldn’t believe that these guys were walking around amongst them. They know all these young lads and they’re able to call them by their first name and nicknames – that’s unbelievable.”
John Conlon spoke on behalf of the ‘Clonlara Six’, then he teamed up with ‘Tots’ to sing My Lovely Rose of Clare before the crowd spilled out onto the field for the rest of the evening.
With that Gully remembers those who weren’t in the community hall to witness these scenes. The departed. Those who along with likes of Gully, Flan Haskett, Pat Conlon, Tony O’Sullivan and many more soldiered away down the years in the hope of a brighter future.
“I joined the Clonlara GAA committee around ’83 or ’84,” he recalls. “Pat Gleeson, God be good to him, was the chairman and all our underage teams were Division C. Kieran Whelan was the vice-chairman and they’re both to their eternal reward.
“Pat Gleeson flogged the building of that new hurling field. He was involved in the purchasing of it and his vision for the future of Clonlara – it’s there now, but unfortunately he didn’t live to see it.
“He didn’t see the great days from here, but he did from above. He was definitely looking down and must have been extremely proud of what he achieved. He fought a lone battle. Some of the lads of the committee kept him isolated, but he kept after it and after it and eventually he got the field. He kept looking for grants and going up to Dáil Éireann.
“His vision was correct. His mantra was ‘we got to get a centre in the village where we can harbour the young lads’. He kept saying that. We needed a quality pitch in the village – we have one of best in the country. It’s no accident that we started to produce those players with these facilities. On a night like this it’s right to remember what these people did for this club.”
They don’t forget where they come from in Clonlara. They’ll never forget, just like they’ll never forget the evening Liam McCarthy came among them.