Liam Griffin is a link bonding Clare and Wexford through his playing and management days, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh who spoke to the 1996 All-Ireland winning manager about this Saturday’s Qualifier game in Cusack Park.
IN 1967 Liam Griffin was part of a Clare squad that travelled down to New Ross to take on Wexford in an Oireachtas quarter-final game.
With home advantage, the Slaneysiders were firm favourites to win, but instead were turned over by a Clare side for whom Griffin’s Newmarket-on-Fergus teammates Pat ‘Fagin’ Cronin and Paddy McNamara were the driving forces.
‘Fagin’, the man hailed by Griffin as the greatest forward he ever played with, grabbed 0-4, while McNamara hit 1-1 in Clare’s surprise 2-9 to 2-7 victory that was the springboard for a run to Croke Park and a final date against Kilkenny.
On the surface of it, the significance of that day when compared to this coming Saturday’s joust between Clare and Wexford is minimal to say the least, if not totally non-existent.
Not quite though, on closer examination.
You see, Wexford are probably as big underdogs for Saturday as Clare were in ’67 –Clare are the reigning All-Ireland champions after all, while Wexford were the All-Ireland champions in waiting back then, winning the ’68 decider against Tipperary.
So, could the same thing happen again? Could the home team, the roaring hot favourites, be turned over in ’14 as they were in ’67?
Who better than Liam Griffin to answer that question – Wexford and yellow belly to his core, but with plenty of saffron and blue blood of Clare coursing through his veins at the same time.
Wexford born, but of Maurice Mills stock and a senior championship winner with the Newmarket-on-Fergus Blues and county senior during his time as a student in Brendan O’Regan’s Shannon Hotel School in the late 1960s.
How about it? Wexford to put it up to Clare, like they did in Thurles last year when taking the game to extra-time.
“Not a chance,” says Griffin. “We’d be well behind Clare at this point in our development. It’s a bit early for Wexford to be beating the likes of Clare, but that’s’ the way the draw has worked and they just have to take it on.
“Wexford played well against Dublin but they’re still a work in progress. It’s going to take longer for this team to develop. There is a lot of young lads on it and they’re enthusiastic and the big hope you’d have for them is that they’ll put in a big performance that will keep them motivated going forward for next year,” he adds.
Griffin isn’t playing up the opposition like managers are wont to do – he’s just calling it as it is as he looks at both teams and the stage of their development over the past number of years.
And, as he does, he’s clearly a fan of Clare. “What I liked most about last year was the way Clare came so unexpectedly,” he says. “It was a huge boost to hurling. You wouldn’t have been looking at them as potential All-Ireland champions before the All-Ireland championship started and even after it started there wasn’t too many people giving them a hope.
“It was great for hurling’s sake that we got such a great year out of Clare last year – they gave two great All-Irelands for the price of one and what they did was a brilliant boost for the game of hurling,” he adds.
Of course, the same can be said of the Clare team of ’95 in the way they shook up championship for everyone in victory – most of all Wexford who followed them into the winners enclosure the following year.
However, history won’t be repeating itself, according to Griffin as he’s tipping Clare to win comfortably on Saturday and to use it as a springboard for the defence of their All-Ireland title.
“They got a good draw in having Wexford at home,” he says. “If Wexford were at home, I don’t think they’d beat Clare at home, but it would certainly help them. Clare are getting that help now and if they can get a good draw in the next round, they could get that momentum again and anything is possible. They might be much better coming through the back door,” he adds.
Meanwhile, for Wexford he hints at it being more about damage limitation in Cusack Park this Saturday.
“I’d be quite honest with you, if Clare get home by five or six points I think Wexford would be well pleased,” he says. “I genuinely believe they’d be well pleased on the road home. You don’t want a Kilkenny v Offaly situation to arise, because it would be a serious dent to the team on the way forward.
“That’s the way they have to look at it taking on the All-Ireland champions in their own backyard. We’d like to get back to hurling’s top table – to do that this Wexford team needs to do well against Clare on Saturday and then expect to have a big improvement on that next year,” he adds.
That’s Griffin’s gospel.
Now to see how it pans out.