The first time Clare were down to play senior hurling and football championship on the same weekend was back in 1888 — a famous day for the footballers and a frustrating day for the hurlers writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.
When the Dals beat the Commercials
LIMERICK’S greatest day in football came back in ’88 — not the day they beat Clare back in Shanahan McNamara Park in Doonbeg in the opening round of the Munster Championship, but a full century later when they won the first ever All-Ireland.
It was the ’87 final played on 29 April, 1888 in Clonskeagh when Limerick Commercials beat Dundalk Young Irelands by 1-4 to 0-3 with a couple of Claremen in William Gunning and PJ Corbett in their ranks.
Gunning was from Broadford and had the distinction of refereeing the first ever Clare county hurling final the year before; Corbett was from Newmarket-on-Fergus, the home of Clare football at the time, while a third All-Ireland man who played in the earlier rounds was Ennistymon’s Michael O’Loughlin.
Limerick’s greatest day, something that meant what happened just over two months later goes down as one of Clare’s greatest football days.
It was the beginning of the Commercials’ defence of their All-Ireland and they were overwhelming favourites to against a Newmarket Dalgais team that had been waiting over a year for their shot at championship action.
They’d won the first ever Clare senior championship against Cratloe in July ’87 and were due out in the All-Ireland championship the following week in Athlone, but their opponents Wicklow never showed. It meant that without kicking a ball the Dalgais were in the All-Ireland quarter-final, but they failed to show themselves for that clash with Tipperary.
They showed in ’88 though — retaining their county title in June and a month later going cross-country to Birdhill to face into their first ever championship game outside the county. “Little wonder that they (Commercials) now expected to add another laurel to their victorious wealth by conquering that county, which in the words of William O’Brien ‘of all the counties in Ireland best represents Irish nationality and religion’,” wrote The Clare Journal.
“Mr John Cullinan of Bansha calling the teams to order, they faced each other in serried lines, many an eye lighted with pride when looking at their well-knit frames, at the thought that the ‘Celts are not yet gone’. With a last caution from the referee the ball is thrown up, and now begins a struggle that for many a year will be remembered by those who were present,” the Journal added.
All because of the Dalgais, who produced championship football’s first seismic shock by dumping the champions out of the All-Ireland race.
“The first rush brings the ball into Clare ground,” reported The Saturday Record. “The Claremen cramped after their 19 mile drive, not warming up for 10 or 15 minutes, during which the Commercials played pretty rough but made no score. And now the Claremen are getting warm, and breathing more freely, are feeling their way into the ranks of their opponents.
“Twenty minutes play and no score. At last the stubborn resistance begins to tell on the Commercials and the Clare forwards, finding they can depend on the backs to hold their own steal gradually in front, and at the first chance Jack Clara gets the ball and is off with a memorable race.
“Kicking, twisting, pitching, jostling, with all the Limerick backs in his track he never falters, never flags, till escaping through the midst of his enemies, he drives the ball in the points amidst the ringing cheers of the assembled thousands in Tipperary. First blood for Clare,” the report adds.
The Dalgais never looked back, leading 1-3 to no score to half-time they then withstood the barrage of the champions to score a famous 1-3 to 1-0 victory.
“The match was played in a splendid spirit, without a single cross word or objection,” reported The Clare Journal. “Not an angry word was heard during the match, or a minute lost in argument owing principally to the justice, firmness and knowledge of the rules shown by the referee Mr Cullinan, who example, if followed, would lend more than anything else to the success of the GAA.”
The angry words and argument came afterwards as the Commercials objected to the make-up of the Dalgais team – alleging that they fielded three players from Cooraclare in their ranks, with the paper trail proving that a letter had been sent to the Milesians requesting the services of some of their big names. This argument was upheld and the Commercials’ All-Ireland defence was back on.
However, the Dalgais had the last laugh. The All-Ireland was never completed owing to the American Invasion – the Dalgais still had their great day in Birdhill.
As the second part of the Clare v Limerick doubleheader, there was no shock, and there was no objection either. Simply because there was no hurling game, as Clare champions Ogonnolloe had no opposition owing to a row between South Liberties and Murroe, who were the county champions of rival county boards.
Everyone will show this weekend, while the days of objecting to the results of championship games are long gone.