Clare’s last championship victory over Cork had a few different back stories, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh, who looks back on the famous 1997 afternoon in Ennis when the Banner County scored a first championship victory over the Rebels in 56 long years.
Clare’s last championship victory over Cork
“IT was coming and we owed them,” says Martin Daly.
“And it was deserved,” says his manager of the day John O’Keeffe. “Thoroughly deserved, whatever about the way it happened,” adds the Kerry great.
It’s the 1997 Munster semi-final meeting between Clare and Cork — the last, and only fifth time in a championship rivalry stretching back 112 years, that the Banner County shot themselves down some Rebels.
Deserved and coming from the Clare perspective because of the roller-coaster between the two sides over the course of a few years when only the kick of a ball separated the two sides — if even that.
The 1990s rivalry between Clare and Cork had kicked in on a famous day for the GAA — the May 30, 1993 day when in the long afterglow of Clare’s first Munster football title in 75 years in 1992, the Munster quarter-final meeting was made an all-ticket affair and was televised live.
And so thanks to the Clare footballers, The Sunday Game Live had one of is first days out ever in Ennis.
“There was huge interest in the Clare footballers,” noted RTÉ’s Head of TV Sport at the time, Tim O’Connor. “When they were drawn against Cork, a team that had won a couple of All-Irelands in a row a few years before that, it was obviously one of the ties of the championship. We decided to cover it live — it was a big move, but the market and interest was there for it. The Clare footballers and their supporters had created that market and interest — they were a new team and were different and that’s why it was made for live television,” he added.
And the RTÉ commitment to the footballers didn’t end there. Ennis man Kieran Hanrahan, the long-time presenter of the hugely popular Céilí House programme on Radio 1 brought another live transmission when his radio show was broadcast from St Flannan’s College.
It was RTÉ’s eve of match special for a football game — coming straight from Clare’s great hurling nursery, but now a football nursery as well on the back of Clare’s success of the previous year and the exploits of the St Flannan’s footballers only a couple of months previously when they’d won a first Corn Uí Mhuirí (Munster Senior A Colleges) title in 34 years by beating Tralee CBS in the final.
A Tralee CBS team that — as fate would have it — was managed by one John O’Keeffe.
“‘The Day The Music Died’ was the report over Cliona Foley’s report in The Irish Independent the morning after Clare had made their exit from the 1993 championship,” recalled journalist and GAA historian Raymond Smith a few years later in his ‘Complete Handbook of Gaelic Games’.
“And attendance of 18,845 saw Cork dethrone the champions by 2-14 to 1-10. Intrepid young Clare supporters brought their bodhrans up on the terrace at the back of the goal to add to the cacophony of sound as Clare took a 0-4 to 0-1 lead after 12 minutes.
“But even the bodhrans were silent by the time referee Paddy Russell blew the full-time whistle. A clear gap in standards had been revealed — a gap that Clare, despite their frenetic efforts, could not bridge in the end.
“Yes the music died in Ennis on that May day in ’93 — and we were left to ponder when it would sound again as it had sounded through the unforgettable season on ’92 and onto the defeat of Mayo in the league quarter-final in Castlebar in ’93.
“There were memories left that would never die for the Clare players who were part of it all and for the great band of supporters who had followed them through thick and thin,” added Smith.
Memories that would come flooding back when they finally beat the Rebels.
CLARE had hoped it would happen in the next meeting a couple of years later in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, but on a sweltering hot day by the Banks it was the Rebels that prevailed by 0-17 to 0-11.
Next up was Cusack Park the following year when a late Aidan O’Keeffe ‘45 earned Clare a share of the spoils and replay in Páirc Uí Chaoimh — the scene of one of the greatest Clare displays in that era.
“We should have won that game,” says John O’Keeffe. “We were better than Cork that day, but we just couldn’t put them away — in the second half of the game and then in the first half of extra-time we played some brilliant football, but just couldn’t get over the line,” he adds.
“We went out full of confidence in ’96 and had Beano sent off in the first five minutes of the second half,” recalls Martin Daly. “We played the full second half with 14 and six or seven points down and brought it back to an all-square game. We were two or three points up in extra-time – Aidan O’Keeffe was on fire the same day — until they got a fluke of a goal that came off the post, they got the rebound and stuck it in the net. That was the turning point,” he adds.
It was Johnny Buckley — he walked the ball into the net for the killer goal and in a gut-wrenching 2-16 to 1-16 defeat Clare were further away from a victory over Cork than they ever were. By the time 1997 came around it was 56 years and counting.
“We had them on the rack and left that one in ‘96, one hundred per cent, behind us,” says Daly. “The full belief probably wasn’t there that we could beat them in ’96. We had that small bit of doubt – had we got it in us to beat the Kerrys and the Corks? That doubt was gone in ’97 though. We knew that we could beat them — especially having them on home ground. We owed them one,” he adds.
And when payback time came it could hardly have been more spectacular.
For Martin Daly, or for Clare.
For Daly it represented a hat-trick — a hat-trick of big-match goals with games swirling around in the melting pot.
The first was as a hurler in 1991 out in Mountshannon when he was on the St Flannan’s College team that played St Raphael’s of Loughrea in the All-Ireland Colleges semi-final — it took a late minute goal from Daly to get them over the line into the Croke Cup final against St Kieran’s that they won, when future senior inter-county luminaries and All-Ireland winners Fergal Hegarty, Ollie Baker and Stephen McNamara were on the bench.
The following year Daly came off the bench in the Munster final — desperate for his chance after being dropped from the side after the semi-final win despite scoring three points.
The then 18-year-old even took to eye-balling John Maughan in an effort to get out there.
“John Maughan was standing on the pitch and looked straight into the dugout,” Daly recalled a few years later. “I was staring into his face and saying to myself ‘Please, please just ask me’. He passed me out and I thought ‘my chance is gone’. Then he came back and said ‘Daly, Daly, get ready’. Tom Downes was sitting alongside me and I was pulling off my tracksuit as I was jumping up.
“For the goal a long ball came in and I just followed it. It was typical Colm Clancy, he’d die and fight for everything and he got a fist up into the air and it just popped up in front of me. I had the simplest chance after that. I was in the right place at the right time.”
Five years later he was in the right place at the right time again when that roller-coaster against Cork came full circle, even though it scarcely seemed possible for much of the afternoon that it could turn out to be Clare’s day.
Stephen O’Brien’s 20th minute goal helped the Rebels into a 1-8 to 0-5 interval lead, while they tagged on a couple of points after half-time to move eight clear.
“It wasn’t that much of a shock that we could beat Cork,” says current Clare selector Ger Keane, who was one of those who led Clare’s fightback, “but it was a shock that we won that day, because even though people might look back on that game with a tinted view of things, there’s no doubt we were very lucky to win it.
“Cork wasted chance after chance – they should have had us dead and buried but we just stayed in there and the goal at the end was daylight robbery to a certain extent. We were catching them on the counter-attack. We just kept battling away but coming up to the end there was a sense it was going to be one of those days, when we had put in a good effort but had fallen short again,” he adds.
The fight-back began when Clare were trailing by 1-10 to 0-5 — substitute Cathal Shannon and his Éire Óg clubmate Barry Keating kicked inspirational points from play into the town goal on the shed side of the field, while Ger Keane started kicking points for fun.
“What made it all the more memorable was the way we won it — usually that type of thing would be done to Clare,” says Keane. “To catch one of the big teams in the last minute was brilliant. The game was over, but the last gasp goal was incredible,” he adds.
“It was a short free about 25 or 26 yards out,” recalls Keane, “and there was seven, eight, nine Cork players behind the ball because the game was nearly up.”
“We knew that the time was as good as gone,” says Daly. “I don’t know who won the free. I knew Ger was grabbing the ball and was in a rush to pop it over the bar to get things going. He was throwing them over for fun that day — everything was going over, left and right.
“Ger, myself and a few more had asked how long was left — there might have been a chance of a kick-out and we could have gone for the point, but we said no. It had to be a goal”.
“I was on the sideline, but up in that half of the field,” recalls McDermott, “while John O’Keeffe moved around to the back of the goal. Cork had everyone back and it was as if everything was being sucked towards the goal,” he adds.
“Someone roared. ‘No we need to go for goal’,” says Daly. “It was John O’Keeffe,” says Keane, “as he signalled to me to go for the goal and pointed his finger down”.
“I made the run,” says Daly. “Ger gave me the ball. I kicked it and it went through one or two legs and hit the net. When it’s going to happen for you, you’re going to get the breaks. We had worked so hard over the previous few years that we deserved some bit of luck, but that’s what we got at the end of the day.
“If you’re going to go for goal you’re not going to blast it from 21 yards and beat two or three on the line. I was lucky. I made the sidestep and one of the lads who was marking me, Eoin Sexton slipped.
“That helped me make one bit of a break. Then it went through another fella’s legs and the goalie, because there were so many defenders there didn’t get a full view of it, saw it late. It wasn’t that it was stuck in the top corner with power — it really rolled over the line.
“Then Kevin O’Dwyer grabbed the ball, put it on the 21 for a quick kick-out. Michael Curley blew the final whistle. David Keane came in and drove the ball straight over the fence into the crowd.”
By this time referee Michael Curley had been lifted high into the air by Francis McInerney.
Clare owed them one alright and though it may have been coming, no one saw it.
Least of all Cork after 56 years.
Clare James Hanrahan (Éire Óg), Alan Malone (Éire Óg), Frankie Griffin (Kilrush Shamrocks),, Padraig Gallagher (Doonbeg), Barry Keating (Éire Óg) (0-1), Brendan Rouine (Ennistymon), Aodán MacCarthaigh (Éire Óg), Donal O’Sullivan (Kilrush Shamrocks), Peter Cosgrove (Éire Óg), Ger Keane (St Senan’s Kilkee) (0-8), Francis McInerney (Doonbeg), Michael Hynes (Michael Cusack’s) (0-1), Paadraig Conway (Doonbeg), Odran O’Dwyer (Kilmurry Ibrickane), Martin Daly (Lissycasey) (1-3). Subs John Enright (St Senan’s Kilkee) for MacCarthaigh, Cathal Shannon (Éire Óg) (0-1) for Conway, David Keane (Kilfeonora) for O’Sullivan.