Doonbeg success of 25 years ago being honoured on county final day

The Doonbeg team that won the 1988 Clare SFC title, beating Kimihil in the final.

After five years out of the winners enclosure the Doonbeg Magpies started to fly again in 1988 when winning the Jack Daly, while six more would follow over the course of the next 13 years, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh who celebrates the Silver Jubilee team ahead of this Saturday’s county final.

Magpies swoop to conquer Kilmihil

“With Tommy’s Beer and Leo’s Meat, we have a team that’s hard to beat.”

IT was just one of a number of colourful banners unfurled in Cusack Park by Magpies flying around the place as captain Gerry Killeen climbed the steps of the ‘Ard Comhairle’ and laid claim to the Jack Daly Cup.
It was Killeen’s third championship with the Magpies, while six more would follow between then and the start of the new millennium as the Clohanes man cemented his status as one of the club’s all-time greats.
But above all, the Magpies’ victory in that 1988 county final, which will be commemorated on Sunday next was about the beginning and end of two different eras of Doonbeg football.
Two golden periods in the Magpies’ history touched off one another that September 25th day a quarter of a century ago. Eras that were poll-forked with glittering success when Jack Daly was looked upon as being part of the Doonbeg family silver.
It was when the new, symbolised by the great triumvirate of Francis McInerney, Padraig Conway and Kieran O’Mahony shared the same stage with the old, with the late and great Bert McMahon being the embodiment of the generation that went back as far as the late 1960s now passing on the baton to younger guns.
“It was huge,” says Francis McInerney 25 years on. “It was huge to be in the same dressing room as legends like Bert, Pete Dillon, Tommy Tubridy and all the others who had won championships and played for Doonbeg down the years.
“I used to go to the games with Tony Pender and Bert McMahon. The week of training you knew the person you were going to the game with. Bert was a great character – he had a rough exterior but a great heart too. Bert used to always tell me that he’d mind me.
“Bert came on as sub in that county final,” recalls manager Sean Whelan, “and was an idol to young lads like Francis, Kieran O’Mahony and Padraig Conway, always encouraging young fellas coming on, giving them praise,” he adds.
“The previous few years we were competitive but we weren’t winning,” says McInerney, “but Doonbeg was there to win championships. For me it was special to win a championship with Doonbeg legends like Bert”.
IT all started for McInerney in 1986 – the year of his championship debut; the year he won a Geraldine League medal with Kieran O’Mahony and Padraig Conway as team-mates in what their first step along the road to football riches.
The road that would eventually lead them to county and provincial honours at club level and at county level too in an era when Doonbeg, more that any other club in the county, symbolised Clare football.
“The one thing about being moved up to the senior team, you could be at training and you’d spend as much time talking about the game as you would actually training,” he recalls.
“It was all about going for the ball and to win it – not to hold back from it and to be competitive all the time. The thing was you had to have the ball to be able to do anything with it. They taught us to have a pride in the jersey and a pride in the locality – to give it your all and then when the game is over, it’s over,” he adds.
McInerney’s championship debut came with the first round championship win over Kilmurry Ibrickane in ’86 when he bagged 0-4, while he followed it up with a goal in the quarter-final win over Shannon Gaels, but the campaign ended in defeat to Éire Óg at the semi-final stage.
The following year the Magpies went one stage further, but ultimately were disappointed once more when second best at the end to Kilrush Shamrocks. “I had a nightmare day in that final,” admits McInerney.
“I missed a penalty and five or six handy frees and we only lost by a few points. Gerry Killeen thought I could take them, but I wasn’t able to. The penalty came in the second half and it was vital.”
1988 was different though. Third time charm for McInerney as the Magpies bridged a five-year gap to their previous championship success. They had an impressive run to the final, beating Kildysart by 1-11 to 1-4 in the opening round, then St Michael’s by 3-11 to 0-7 before edging out near rivals St Senan’s Kilkee in the semi-final.
“Sean Whelan was the manager,” says McInerney, “and he had a great way of getting to players. He’d have a few phrases that were particular to each player. He knew how to wind a player up, or calm him down.
“He had done it all as a player with Doonbeg and a word from him meant an awful lot. The one thing about Sean was he’d always tell you that you were having a great game – it mightn’t be true, but he always said it.
“He’d say ‘you have the beating of that fella’ or ‘they’re afraid of you’, or ‘they can’t mark you’. He’d say it to give you a gee up, but the following week he might say ‘well you weren’t that great, were you’.”
As it turned out, Doonbeg weren’t that great in the final, but got over the line thanks to McInerney first big announcement on the county final stage that he graced on 14 occasions between 1987 and 2001 – the only two years that the Magpies weren’t in the county final being 1990 and ’94.
“We probably deserved to beat Kilrush in the ’87 final more than we did Kilmihil in the ’88 final,” he says. “Kilmihil were far the better team for 50 minutes,” recalls Sean Whelan, “but we took over in the last ten minutes and Francis scored a good goal that made all the difference”.
“It was a very bad day and Kilmihil had a lot of possession but didn’t take their scores,” says McInerney, “but Michael Lynch flicked the ball into me and somehow I ended up in front of the goal and got it in. It went into the top corner, I can’t say I was going for the top corner but that’s where it went. It was the only goal Kilmihil conceded all year.
“The backs were very good. Kieran O’Mahony had a great game, while Gerry McInerney was probably our best player all year. We thought that if we got ahead at all the backs wouldn’t concede that much and that’s how it turned out.”
McInerney’s goal put the Magpies 1-4 to 0-6 clear inside the last ten minutes before captain Gerry Killeen popped over a point to leave two between them at the end of what was the fifth county final meeting between the sides in 20 years.
“There were a lot of finals and a lot of wins,” says McInerney, “but the first win was one of the sweetest. Myself, Kieran and Padraig had never won too much underage – we barely won a few games and now we had a championship.
“It being the first I remember the great celebrations in Doonbeg with bonfires and the whole lot. It was nice to experience what the lads had experienced down the years – what it meant to the people.
“Coming from the Cree side the first bonfire would be over the bridge at Mountrivers – only about 300 yards from the Cooraclare parish, it would be more or less across the road from our house.
“It was the whole thing of touring around the parish the following day with the cup. I loved that. After winning the championship, Tommy Tubridy always made a point of going to the schools the day afterwards.
He’d always make sure that the cup went around to the schools – even in Shragh and Moyasta where there would be kids from other parishes in the school, but there’d be Doonbeg there too. That was a highlight, going back with the Jack Daly,” he adds.
For McInerney it was the first of many journeys.

Doonbeg Tony Pender, Kieran O’Mahony, Gerry McInerney, Tommy Tubridy, James Doyle, Timmy Killeen, Leo McInerney, Pat Blake, Francis McInerney (1-1), Danny Bermingham, Pat Hanrahan, Declan Hayes (0-1), Padraig Conway (0-1), Gerry Killeen (0-2) (Capt), Declan Conway. Subs Michael Lynch for Declan Conway, Bert McMahon for Doyle, Tommy Greene for Hanrahan.

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