Munster Club Hurling Final: Foot in both camps

Tony Considine has managed Kilmallock to a couple of county championships and has huge regard for his old team, but he’s still a Cratloe man and above all a hurling man because of his Cratloe upbringing, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.

THE book ‘Up in the Old Hotel’ was published about 20 years ago and draws together the celebrated essays of The New Yorker columnist of over half a century Joe Mitchell.
Up in the old hotel has an entirely different meaning for Tony Considine, but it’s no less celebrated where his affection and interest in both Cratloe and Kilmallock hurling is concerned.
It’s late 2006 and Cratloe hurling is finally on the move, after the Senior B championship win over Smith O’Briens in Cusack Park and Considine is invited to the old Limerick Inn Hotel to present Cratloe with their medals; it’s late 2009 and the invitation is for Deebert House Hotel in Kilmallock to meet with a group of under-achieving, yet eager to succeed hurlers.
“Presenting the medals to Cratloe,” recalls Considine, “what I did say was that ‘with the talent ye have know ye have to drive on and win the Canon Hamilton and I believe ye will win it before the decade is out’. I could see that the talent was there and coming through.
“In Kilmallock the talent was already there,” he adds. “With Garryspillane we had beaten Kilmallock in the 2005 county final, but before 2010 they came to me and asked me to have a chat with them. They said they were finding it difficult to get the best out of the lads they had. They had won minors and Under 21s, but ‘couldn’t get any good out of them at senior’ they told me.
“I met them in the hotel in Kilmallock and took the team over and after three or four weeks I said to James Connery, who is a selector now, ‘what’s all the talk about these lads not giving it’. They were brilliant and taking them over I knew we’d win senior championships.”
Cratloe won their championship in 2009 as Considine had foretold; Kilmallock won in 2010 and ’12 under Considine’s watch and now he’s heading in the road to The Gaelic Grounds to see his home and old clubs clash on the biggest stage of all in Munster.
For Considine, it’s a road well travelled, because The Gaelic Grounds, Cratloe and latterly Kilmallock are all part of his hurling story.

“A HOME game for Kilmallock,” he laughs. “Not a bit of it,” he adds, “because sit in the Mackey Stand and you can see the famous Cratloe Hill, that’s how close it is and it’s why Cratloe people were always in The Gaelic Grounds more than Cusack Park when I was growing up”.
So it was that in The Gaelic Grounds Considine’s induction began. Three and a half miles in road, whether by foot or by the bus that passed his front door on the old Limerick Road just down from Setright’s Cross.
“I went in for the 1963 Munster final between Waterford and Tipperary and it was a huge thing for me, because they were two great team with huge players,” he recalls. “I’ll never forget it — the score that day was 0-11 to 0-8 for Waterford — and what I saw that day.
“Phil Grimes was corner forward for Waterford and was wearing number 15. I was behind the Cratloe end goal watching him. At that time the numbers were stitched onto the back of the jerseys. It was a blue number and John Doyle was playing corner-back and all that was left was the small part of the one on Grimes’ back. I can still see it — it was an education to be there for that match,” he adds.
The following year that education continued when Considine was part of the squad that won Cratloe’s first ever underage title thanks to a win over O’Callaghan’s Mills in the Under 16 B final, while he looked on the same year as the club’s first team landed a first Junior A title since 1935 with a win over Éire Óg in the final.
“My father was on the ’35 team,” he reveals, “and we were reared on hurling stories because it was the only thing we had. And we had ‘The Hollow’ of course. It was the sacred ground as far as we were concerned, it was our Croke Park or The Gaelic Grounds. There were two Hollows. The small Hollow and the big Hollow. The big Hollow was for the big boys and the greatest promotion of all was to get promoted from the small Hollow to follow the ball for the big boys. That was a brilliant promotion.
“My brother Tom was known as Toto and another brother Pat also played, while there were loads of great men around the club when I was with them. Seanie Keyes, Kenneth Bentley, Jim Browne, Benji we used to call him — Sean McInerney who played with the Clare minors was with us as was Mick Quain, a nephew of the great referee. Then there was the great Jackie O’Gorman.
“That was our community. After training we’d go up and drink water out of the well in a place called Tobar an Airgead, up near the station. Then we’d go up to Cratloe Cross and if fellas could afford it they got a bottle of lemonade. I remember Babs Keating giving us a session below in Na Piarsaigh. It was a huge thing for us.
“And we used to play football in Cratloe back them too, but it was nearly dark when we’d play it — when the hurling was over, Kenneth Bentley would take the football out and you could be there all night if Kenneth’s team was losing.
“The football has moved on since then,” he quips, “and so has the hurling”.

TO witness this revolution just visit The Gaelic Grounds this Sunday, the same place the footballers were for last year’s final — a short jaunt in the road for Cratloe, but at the same time a hurling and football journey that in its own way has been as significant and seismic as a mission to Mars.
“The whole country is talking about Cratloe,” enthuses Considine, “and it’s remarkable and it’s deserved,” he adds, before pearing it all back to his own time and where he thinks the seeds were sewn.
“I always believed that when you come into a place, you can get a lot more done than the fella inside trying to do it,” he says. “You don’t have people pulling against you so much and that’s where I trace all this back to,” he adds.

“Phil Grimes was corner forward for Waterford and was wearing number 15. I was behind the Cratloe end goal watching him. At that time the numbers were stitched onto the back of the jerseys. It was a blue number and John Doyle was playing corner-back and all that was left was the small part of the one on Grimes’ back. I can still see it — it was an education to be there for that match,” he adds.

Considine speaks from experience — the ‘Bouncers’ from Garryspillane had only been to one county final in their history before Considine landed in Knocklong in 2004, but were back there by the end of the year when losing to Ahane by a point before hitting back to beat Kilmallock in the 2005 decider; Kilmallock hadn’t won since 1994 but everything changed after Considine came in and they won titles in 2010 and ’12.
“The big thing was John Ryan coming to Cratloe — he brought a professionalism that was never there before, in everything that was done. It was down to getting Cratloe involved in Scór, the hurling and starting the football team.
“He was an O’Callaghan’s Mills man who scored the goal to beat Cratloe in the 1968 intermediate final and he really got involved in the club around 1973 and ’74 — it was a huge thing for the club going forward.
“I remember going to Cratloe NS with the Liam McCarthy Cup in ’95 and it was the first year that Conor Ryan, Liam Markham and Conor McGrath started school. I remember all the young lads were around — the ’95 win had an impact on them, but the work Limerickman Jody O’Connor put in with them in the school was immense. Then you had others Joe McGrath and Colm Collins coming in and you see how much Cratloe has benefitted from people coming in. It has been the making of Cratloe.”
County champions on the double — now after losing the football semi-final, not to mind last year’s football final defeat to Dr Crokes, more desperate than ever for some Munster championship glory.
“It’s incredible stuff,” says Considine, “the way they go from one game to the next. They nearly don’t have time to think of what’s in front of them and that’s a great thing — it’s as if with all the games there are no nerves there.
“It’s a great way to be going into a game. It should be a great occasion in front of a big crowd out to see two great teams. I would say that Kilmallock were probably the best club team I ever trained, as regards attitude and commitment to the jersey and to the cause.
“To tell you how good they were. You could have Gavin O’Mahoney, Paudie O’Brien and Graeme Mulcahy. They could be playing a league game with Limerick on a Saturday night and if you were training with Kilmallock on the Sunday morning they’d be inside there with you. The best team that Cratloe are going to meet are Kilmallock. There’s no other team as good as these fellas. That’s how big it is.”
It’s Tuesday and the game is five days away — the man with a foot in both camps can’t wait.
Everyone else is the same.

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