LET’S step back five years to the fall of the 2012 hurling year. The All-Ireland final has been drawn, then won and lost and all that was left was the end of year ‘Oscars’.
Brendan Bugler was named right-half-back on the All Stars team dominated by champions Kilkenny and vanquished Galway — it was a signal honour and signpost for the future in the same way that Ger Loughnane’s All Star was in 1974 and Anthony Daly’s was in 1994.
Bugler, though glad to accept the individual honour, was much happier talking team and the holistic approach about what he wanted for Clare’s future rather than reflecting on his stellar 2012 that made him the county’s first All Star in six years.
“To be 100 per cent honest the All Star means a lot more to my family than it probably does to me,” said Whitegate’s first ever All Star. “There’s only one thing that I’m after for the coming year and that’s a Munster medal and an All-Ireland would be a bonus.”
Munster wasn’t to be, of course, but the bonus territory of the All-Ireland certainly was, while five years on Bugler preaches much the same gospel. Munster. It’s all about Munster, with the provincial championship still holding huge lustre. The All-Ireland is pucked down the road.
“I’d hate to see the Munster Championship go,” he says. “I know Tony Kelly was saying there recently he’d like to see it go. I think the Munster Championship is absolutely special. I don’t think, bar an All-Ireland final I suppose, Munster final day is something very very special, even watching it.”
This will be Bugler’s 11th Munster campaign, his debut coming in the infamous ‘Semplegate’ clash against Cork under Tony Considine’s watch as manager in 2007.
“I was the last one out, the first three or four were doing a bit of flaking,” he smiles.
Eleven years on he’s the lone survivor from the 2007 squad still hurling — past-captain Patrick Donnellan was there in 2006 but wasn’t part of the squad the following year — and yearning for a shot at provincial glory.
“I haven’t had the opportunity of running out on Munster final day,” he says wistfully. “I was suspended for the one time we got there in 2008. I was sent off just before the game was over. I had hardly got to the line and the game was over.
“I thought it was everything. I was young and all I was thinking of was hurling, hurling, hurling and playing in a Munster final. I thought I would be back there again, but I haven’t. We haven’t been in one since 2008, which is shocking to say the least. It would be nice to get that opportunity again, one last one maybe.”
Munster been on horizon for a while now — always there in the background as Clare got up and running in 2017, but within full view since the league ended as the new management team compartmentalised the season into three distinct categories.
“We broke it up into phases,” reveals Bugler. “We had the Munster League phase, the National League phase and now you have the Limerick phase. If we get over that we have the Munster final and the All-Ireland series. That’s the way it is. This is that game that’s been in the back of the mind — everything was geared up towards it, but we didn’t talk about the Limerick game until the league was over.”
A game that’s always the same — 50/50 and a toss-up where everything goes.
“It’s the only way to look at it,” admits Bugler. “I had a good conversation with Jamesie O’Connor about it inside in school [St Flannan’s College where he teaches].
“When these two counties meet form goes out the window. When people look over the last couple of years it seems to be every second turn, hopefully that’s going to change this year.
“There’s an added little spice to it this year in that you have Paul (Kinnerk) and Joe (O’Connor) inside with them and Alan Cunningham. There’s no doubt about it with the players and management know each other very well. I know that Joe O’Connor thinks he knows how I think and Paul Kinnerk as well. It all adds to it and it boils down to who’s going to out-think who on the day.
A game of chess as much as a hurling game then?
“A little bit,” concedes Bugler, “because the players know each other so well. It’s a massive opportunity. Limerick are probably thinking the same thing. Both counties are thinking the same thing. 70 minutes and then you’re 70 minutes away from a Munster medal, so it’s a big one.”
And, if Clare’s training regime is anything to go by, the concentration on that 70 minutes separating them from a first Munster final in nine years has been total — tunnel-visioned to the exclusion of everything else.
Even the high hurling of Cork and Tipperary in the Munster Championship opener?
“It’s got everyone talking all week,” he admits, “but we trained at four o’clock (the throw in time for Cork v Tipp),” he reveals. “That tells where our focus was at. We can talk about Cork having a great win and they did have a great win, but really it doesn’t matter to us.
“There’s only one game we’re focusing on and that’s why the guys had training at four o’clock. They wanted to keep us focused on this game and not be looking ahead, not that any of us would be looking ahead anyway.
“We have to be at our peak. The last couple of years we haven’t turned up and we haven’t performed and I suppose there’s no excuses. You don’t want to be a team that are one-hit wonders. You want to back it up with a Munster medal. That would be a nice way to back it up.
“Even listening to Loughnane he was going on about Tipp and Kilkenny — what did he say? He said bar the fluke year of 2013 when both of them had been knocked out — it was Jesus, that’s what he thinks of us. It was was a fluke year (in 2013).
“Ok Kilkenny and Tipp were gone in 2013 but we ended up winning the thing. You don’t want that year to be seen as a fluke year, you don’t want to be seen as a once-off team because ultimately if that is all we do win with this group of players it will be deemed a massive failure.”
Bugler doesn’t aim to fail. Call it the Whitegate man’s bugle call similar to the one in 2012 after he collected that All Star