Ahead of the Clare hurlers’ championship clash with Limerick Joe Ó Muircheartaigh looks back at the Banner County’s most famous victory ever over the Shannonsiders – the 1995 meeting of 20 years ago that changed the hurling world.
Scaling Mount Everest
“The night of the Munster final in Clarecastle was special. It was raw. It was just Clarecastle. They didn’t even have a podium. They put me on a bus. I remember saying ‘it must be a good night in Clarecastle if my mother’s not gone to Bingo in town’.”
Anthony Daly on 1995
WAS this day the greatest?
Surely it was, because this was the day that in the words Ger Loughnane “the dam broke and the true quality of Clare hurling came through”; the hoodoo over and the balderdash about Biddy Early consigned to mythology by fact.
And the facts spoke for themselves. Munster champions at last and the lost and long since presumed extinct art of the Clare Shout now resurrected — in Thurles and wherever in the world that saffron and blue was worn.
“I think all over Clare they are getting ready for a Clare Shout,” said RTÉ radio commentator of the day Michéal Ó Muircheartaigh. “Maybe we could hear it once more in the studio. Oooh hoo, Oooh hoo hoo. It’s echoing all over Semple Stadium. That is the ‘Clare Shout’,” he added nearly letting one off himself in South American soccer commentating style.
“We’re hardly able to talk,” said Matthew McMahon in Clare FM’s commentary box a few feet away. “Excuse us. It’s injury time, it’s 35 minutes gone. Ooooh I can’t say I don’t believe it because I do. Clare are within a whisker. We’re going to win the Munster final. Limerick are beaten all ends up here.”
“The whistle sounds and Clare are the Munster senior hurling champions of 1995,” roared Ó Muircheartaigh. “And what an invasion of the pitch. They come from the four corners, each of them selecting, any Clareman will do. And Ger Loughnane is jumping high in the air. There are hardly any Clare men here who have witnessed a sight like this.”
“Bishop Willie,” thundered McMahon. “If you’re tuned in in Knock will you hurry on back to Ennis. Ooooh what a sensation. It’s all over, wow, a Jesus, it’s all over. It’s all over. If you waited 63 years or if you saw Clare teams lose Munster finals like I did since ’67 you’d be a stone if you hadn’t a tear in your eye.”
Released after 63 years of championship failure.
There were tears and there was laughter and there were the Clare Shouts, because this was the greatest day — for the fans and the players after the frustrations stretching back to 1932 and weighing Clare down like an anchor on their souls.
Those Munster finals when Clare came in hope; when they came in confidence; when they came in expectation of victory but always went away with the same thing. Defeat. It was never any other way and there were those who believed it could be no other way.
There’d been 11 Munster finals since Clare’s last win in ’32, but Clare were always second best. To Waterford in ’38; to Limerick in ’55, ’74, ’81 and ’94; to Tipperary in ’67 and ’93; to Cork in ’72, ’77, ’78 and ’86.
“It’s a harsh comment but the question is,” declared Clare FM’s Matthew McMahon looking at the above, “if Clare met Kerry in a Munster hurling final, with our history, would we even beat Kerry”.
“Is it something psychological with the Clare hurlers,” wondered consultant psychologist and TD Dr Moosajée Bhamjee. “The mental block preventing them from winning a Munster championship is there,” he added.
“The biggest damage was done in the 1950s,’’ reckoned Ger Loughnane. “In 1954, Clare beat the great Wexford team with the Rackards in the Oireachtas in Croke Park, which was a huge competition at the time. Then, the following year, they beat Cork and Tipperary and were overwhelming favourites to beat Limerick in the Munster final.
“What happened? They got slaughtered. That had a devastating effect. You can’t overstate it. It was like an earthquake going through Clare hurling. Not alone did it ruin and finish that team, it damaged the supporters. And those supporters were our parents, who then had a desperate negative attitude,” he added.
“We were in the doldrums for years,” recalled Jimmy Smyth, “and with our losing record lesser mortals would have folded up overnight but the spirit is unbowed. Emily Lawless express this purpose and goal in a far loftier way: ‘Send us your western breezes, our full, our rightful share, for faith, fame and honour and the ruined hearts of Clare’.”
“The real crossroads came in 1978 when we met Cork,” said Loughnane. “We were hot favourites to win and were only a point or two down at half-time after playing into a storm, but we still lost. That was another 1955 for Clare. It had the same effect. What was worse was that we beat ourselves.
“So the pessimism and fatalism was reinforced by that defeat. Clare would never win. There was a curse on them. All that type of stuff. There was a fatalistic, pessimistic, negative attitude that even winning a Munster final was harder than climbing Mount Everest.
“But that pessimism, that fatalism was killing Clare. Every time a final was lost, the hill got steeper and steeper until it looked like it could never be climbed. By ’95, it wasn’t a hill, it was a sheer cliff-face.”
The only thing was to climb it.
THAT hill got higher and steeper in April ’95 when Clare endured another crushing defeat — this time to Kilkenny in the National League final as the Cats coasted home to a 2-12 to 0-9 victory in Semple Stadium.
Still, Loughnane believed — famously telling them in the dressing room afterwards “we’re going to win the Munster final”.
Others believed in them too.
“The defeat might not be the end of Clare’s world,” said Kevin Cashman in The Sunday Independent. “In fact, when you consider the celebrations and euphoria and delusions that victory would have generated, and then remember that championship is just three weeks away, the defeat may be a blessing”.
And so it was. They huffed and they puffed against Cork on the June Bank Holiday Sunday, but Seanie McMahon’s broken shoulder didn’t prevent him winning a line-ball from which the decisive goal came to secure what Loughnane called “the greatest victory Clare have achieved in all my time involved in hurling”.
Until the next one that is. The big one. A third Munster final in a row. A sixth final against Limerick — searching for a first victory against them having endured those harrowing defeat of ’55, ’74, ’81 and ’94, not forgetting when it all started back in ’18 and the darkest day of all when they were beaten by 11-3 to 1-2 in Thurles.
“Everything is so relaxed with players looking forward to the game rather than the event,” said a laid back Ger Loughnane in Cusack Park the Tuesday night before the game. “They are a very confident bunch. It’s a very young team, which is oozing with confidence and mad to get at it,” said trainer Mike McNamara.
The stage was set.
The team had just been named with Ollie Baker, Frank Lohan and Stephen McNamara getting their first full championship starts at the expense of Jim McInerney, John Chaplin and Stephen Sheedy.
“I would love to see these fellas win a Munster final,” said Loughnane. “They deserve to win something. They deserve to win a championship for the huge effort they have put in over the winter. I think no team has trained as hard over the winter months and when you do work as hard as that and are as dedicated as that, you deserve something at the end of the line.
“But deserving it is no good unless you go out on the day and earn it. On this day there is going to be no lying down by this Clare team. We are going to really battle it out and give it everything to beat Limerick on Sunday.”
And so it happened.
Clare were confident, but so were Limerick — just because they always were when it came to Clare.
“Of course we will do it,” said former All-Ireland winner in ’94 when looking ahead to the Limerick- Clare Munster final. “There is no need to ask. Clare always flop in finals. Their record against us is dismal,” he added.
Limerick hadn’t changed their opinion of Clare in 12 months. Indeed, it’s as if the Munster final had already taken place — that was Limerick’s semi-final against Tipperary when they edged home by 0-16 to 0-15.
“Beating Tipperary, if we never won another match was something special,” said Dave Clarke afterwards. “The way it is with us is that Tipp are the enemy of everyone and the friend of nobody. Even before the All-Ireland last year we’d heard a lot out of Tipperary that it was only Mickey Mouse All-Ireland final. When we beat them it was something special, you could see it in the faces of our supporters even.”
Now for the traditionally Poor Clares.
Limerick led by 0-5 to 0-2 with ten minutes of the first half remaining — but then everything changed. James O’Connor slipped away from Sean O’Neill and rifled a point, then Davy Fitzgerald started moving.
“Fitzgerald was near the 50-yard mark before most of the 46,361 crowd realised that a penalty had been awarded for a Mike Nash foul on Conor Clancy after Stephen McNamara had split the Limerick defence with a piercing run,” noted Liam Horan in The Irish Independent.
“I was trying to clear my head running up the field,” said Fitzgerald afterwards, “saying to myself there was only one thing you have to do and that’s hit the ball has hard as you can. Don’t have it saved, drive them all into the net with you if you must.”
“Fitzgerald who was seen to limp after an earlier goalmouth joust sprinted back the pitch as if making an assault on the world 100m record,” reported The Independent. “Oooh Davie Boy,” gushed Matthew McMahon on Clare FM. “Ben Johnson goes towards the Clare goal. Davie. He was like Ben Johnson out of the traps the way he raced back,” he added.
“Somewhere near his own goal the came down off the high and the limp returned,” noted The Independent.
Clare never looked back though — leading by 1-5 to 0-7 at half-time, then putting on the after-burners, with a spurt of 0-4 in a ten-minute spell from the 43rd minute pushing them 1-10 to 0-9 clear and on the road to being out of sight.
“Clare boomed on,” said The Independent. “O’Connor, O’Connell, Clancy, McNamara and Hegarty scored points and the Clare fans got fed up with the foreplay. Down on the terrace they poured, breaching the ramparts as if they were bamboo hurdles in a Community Games dash and on to the sideline.”
Victors by 1-17 to 0-11 and the saffron and blue flag that was fluttering on Tommy Daly’s grave in on the hill of Tulla spoke to the dead generations who hadn’t lived to see the day Clare ended their Munster Championship hoodoo.
“I feel young again,” declared 1932 Munster title winning captain John Joe ‘Goggles’ Doyle. “Closing a 63-year period without a Munster Championship is like an impossible dream coming true.”
“I had firmly made my mind up that I wasn’t going to get out of hurling until I had won a Munster Championship,” said Loughnane. “It became a total and utter obsession. You have no idea how much of an obsession it was.
“When it was over it was just relief. It know people were euphoric, but I didn’t have the feeling of euphoria. Just relief that something had been a total obsession had been realised.”
Clare’s beautiful obsession.
And Anthony Daly’s mother wasn’t the only person who skipped the Bingo for a night of celebration instead.