IT was the Sunday of the October Bank Holiday Weekend sometime in the early ‘90s — a quick Google fact check and it’s exactly a quarter of a century ago in 1993 — and it was decided to break the journey from Athenry home to Ennis in Gort.
Seeing as we were coming from the Galway v Clare Oireachtas final in Kenny Park it was decided to stop in a hurling pub, so into Josie Harte’s it was.
Galway won their sixth Oireachtas title in seven years that day and of course the discussion from both sides of the counter was hurling.
The Clare boys were in, so the ball was pucked in. And, of course, those Clare boys, in this case the Clare FM commentary team of the day — East Clare Inc — of Matthew McMahon from the Mills, his sidekick Michael Gallagher from Kilkishen and soundman Matt Purcell from Feakle, gave as good as they got.
Josie Harte still won though. All because when the discussion was at its height — when the merits of Josie Gallagher v Jimmy Smyth, Linnane v Loughnane or Stack v Silke were being thrashed out — up piped Josie with the immortal line: ‘sure Clare haven’t won an All-Ireland since before the Rising’.
There was no comeback that one, but the important thing was, it was purely in jest, and more importantly again was taken that way.
That’s because Clare v Galway isn’t like Clare v Tipperary was in the old days, or Clare v Limerick for that matter.
The rivalry might be there, but the banter is never far away, while the respect always there, something that always comes to the fore whenever they’ve locked horns in championship since Clare dared to win their first All-Ireland since the Rising.
That relationship, albeit full of tensions as is the rite of passage of any liaison, is to be found along different part of the borderlines that separate the two counties. In Beagh, in Tubber, in Gort, in Killanena and in Kilbeaconty.
“Clare people are such great Irish people, such great Gaels,” gushed Josie Harte in 1995, just days ahead of the All-Ireland semi-final. “The music. The Tulla. The Kilfenora. Lisdoonvarna. You have to like Clare people,” he added.
“We in Tubber love seeing Galway with the All-Ireland,” confirmed Pat O’Connor that same week. “That said,” he continued, “we wouldn’t like to seem them winning three or four in a row. We don’t want to be listening to them all the time,” he laughed.
THAT special bond between Clare and Galway hurling folk was consummated over the airwaves of Galway Bay FM in 1995 — it was the middle of Galway Race Week and just days out from the All-Ireland semi-final when a pre-match special was broadcast from O’Grady’s in the ‘North Clare Capital’ of Gort.
Some of the great names of Galway and Clare hurling talked about times past that night. It was banter in the border town over pints and you could feel the love.
Seamus Durack, Pat O’Connor, Fr Harry Bohan and Gus Lohan were among those in the Clare corner, while Sylvie Linnane, John Commins, Josie Harte and Conor Hayes were representing Galway.
It spoke volumes — what was coming up wasn’t just an All-Ireland semi-final, but a meeting of friends and neighbours and a sort of celebration.
“It was a special night,” remembered Galway Bay FM host hey, Paul McGinley. “I did the traditional GAA thing and got the clergy to kick it off. I contacted Bishop Willie Walsh and he said he’d do it. It was Galway Plate day and he stopped in on his way home. He told me he could only stay for a few minutes.
“Fr Paddy Gantley from Beagh started off the show with Bishop Willie and at the end of the night I saw them at the corner of the bar sipping pints and talking hurling. That’s the type of night it was. There was no going home for the Bishop. It could happen to a Bishop,” he laughed.
Colm Flynn’s presence in O’Grady’s crystalised everything. The Ennisman coached Clare in the 1960s, trained them in ’70s, but he was Galway too, having been the physio to the All-Ireland teams of ’87 and ’88 under his friend Cyril Farrell.
Gus Lohan went from Cappataggle and Galway to Newmarket-on-Fergus and Clare, while Niall McInerney went from Sixmilebridge and Clare to Liam Mellows and Galway. Lohan won a National League with Clare, Niall McInerney won an All-Ireland with Galway.
And when Joe Connolly gave his famous speech after that All-Ireland win in 1980 among the biggest Galway supporters were the O’Connors from Ballinakill. Fifteen years on and things had moved on, with James O’Connor on the Clare team beating Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final.
These were the hurling ties that bound them together and still do. Those ties are everywhere.
THEY’RE of the same community; they cut silage with each other; they drink the same beer in the same pubs and talk about the same things; they even wear the same colours; but they’re still that little bit different.
It’s all because, once they leave their tightly knit community, they pledge allegiance to different flags. Of course the black and amber of Tubber are saffron and blue too, while there’s no doubting the maroon minds of their Beagh neighbours.
“It creates plenty of rivalry,” remembered Finbarr Gantley Snr from Beagh, at another O’Grady’s gathering a few years. “It was sometimes bitter,” he laughed, “but never too bitter, because we’re friends”.
They say the same a few miles over the road where Killanena in Clare touches Kilbeacanty in Galway, or 20 miles further south where the road from the Whitegate hurling field takes you to similar pastures in Portumna and Woodford.
“Sam Doyle’s in Killanena was a great place,” said Clare’s Kevin Kennedy, “because it’s a place where serious hurling was always discussed. It’s Clare, but a lot of Sam’s patrons were Galway. The rivalry there was something else, bitter enough at times.”
And, it wasn’t only talk….
They laughed about it, but everyone in these parts who was alive at the time remembers the Guaire Cup final of 1971 between Tommy Larkins and Crusheen. Lest they forget it….
“It’s like this, the closer you get to the border the stronger the rivalry is,” said former Galway manager Mattie Murphy.
“I was at that match up in Gort’s field,” remembered Kevin Kennedy.
“Who won?” queried an innocent bystander.
“It was abandoned,” said Kennedy.
“But Crusheen won the row,” said Gantley.
“A well known Galway hurler of the time was seen running into town after the match without togging in,” added Kennedy.
“He was a fair good runner,” said Murphy.
“I tell you, he had to be,” said Kennedy.
THE GANTLEYS and the Taaffes are next door neighours, while only a mile separates the Gantleys from the O’Connors. The Gantleys went to school in Lorga NS – it’s where Eamonn Taaffe went too, while Finbarr Gantley Snr was schooled in hurling in the Tubber field.
“I went there because it was nearer,” he said. “I learned my hurling with the O’Connors’ and other Tubber lads. There was no coaching. The Tubber lad that was on you and after you wouldn’t be long coaching you.”
“Gantley’s a good man to tell a story,” said Pat O’Connor, “but maybe he came down because Tubber were a bit more organised than Beagh and some of the Beagh lads played with us. Former Galway selector John Moylan played under 14 and 16 with us because Beagh didn’t have an underage structure at the time and Gantley was always in the field.”
Gantley was still Beagh though, even through the 11 years he spent in London from 1966 to ’77. “When he came back,” said Mattie Murphy, “Beagh were on the point of extinction, but he single-handedly held them on.
“He built a team around himself and they came up from junior to intermediate to senior. They were hardly able to field at junior when he came home. It was down to him, if he hadn’t come home a lot of fellas would have turned around and looked on it as an unequal struggle and gone elsewhere.”
Gantley pucked the credit across the border. “It was two Clare people that got Beagh hurling going,” he said. “Joe Killeen from Corofin and Sean Keane from Crusheen who taught at Lorga and Lough Cutra schools. Next thing both of them won schools hurling championships. That’s what Clare did for us. We do it for them too, my son Joe is now teaching in Crusheen and loves it.”
Of course, mention of Crusheen and Gantley gave rise to talk of one famous game that the Beagh stalwart played for Crusheen.
“He had a dual mandate,” laughed Mattie Murphy as the famous Crusheen/Newmarket under 21 final grenade from 1969 was pucked into the conversation.
One unofficial story in Crusheen goes that Gantley arrived into Shannon from London on the same flight as Con Woods who was playing for Newmarket. He then landed in the Newmarket dressing before the game only to be told he was in the wrong place.
Gantley’s story was that “a ‘Michael Browne’ was playing that day”. He was smiling though as he warmed to the subject of that tempestuous final that was played in Ruan and that saw referee Jimmy McNamara from Ennis, who only passed away earlier this year, send eight off the field of play.
“Mike Moroney and Joe Meaney got sent off at the throw-in. ‘Michael Browne’ got sent off the same day,” said Gantley.
Whatever happened, Gantley or ‘Michael Browne’and Woods met on the field, said nothing, played their game and went back to London after the game. Still friends, even if they were in opposition.
Same as it ever was, because it was only always during the 60 or 70 minutes of Clare v Galway games that these comrades with common interests went their separate ways. And, these games are remembered more acutely in these parts than anywhere else.
“Clare beat us above in Tulla one day,” said Gantley shaking his head and sneaking a look into his pint. “All the talk was about Biddy Early. Some of the Galway supporters were back in Gort before they heard the result. We were nine points up with five minutes left but were beaten by two.”
“Little Mickie Murphy from Clooney came on and turned that game,” said Kennedy.
“Did Pat O’Connor get three goals that day?” wondered Gantley.
“No,” said Kennedy, “Noel Casey got two goals and Pat got the other.”
“I got one goal, Casey got another, and Johnny Callinan the other I think,” said O’Connor. “Some of the Galway lads from around here left early because they were rushing back to collect bets they had on the match in the local pub. They waited to listen to the sports results on the RTE later that evening before they believed Clare actually won.”
“I remember I went to that game with the late Gerry P Fahy,” said John Commins. “He was on the team I think, definitely on the panel. It was a silent trip home.”
“Fate has a lot to do with it,” said Mattie Murphy. “Remember Clare in ’95 – the goal against Cork when Seanie McMahon was injured and they couldn’t bring on a sub and he was put in corner-forward. He was in no position to challenge for that ball that forced the sideline out of which Baker scored that goal.”
“Same with us in ’87 in the league final,” said Commins. “Gerry McInerney got the chance of the winning goal for Clare, but the ball bobbled and he missed the pull. If he had scored, who’s to say we would have gone on won All-Irelands in ’87 and ‘88. We were after losing the finals of ’85 and ’86 and needed a win.”
Clare’s loss was Galway’s gain, just like it was when an All-Ireland eluded the great Clare team of the 1970s but came to Galway in ’80. “We were jealous yes,” said Kennedy. “But it didn’t stop us drinking with them,” said O’Connor.
“I remember the night in 1980 we brought the cup to Beagh and Tubber,” said Gantley. “We went to Finnerty’s and I’d say 95 per cent of them there were Clare. They were more delighted than the Galway crowd. It was the same for us when Clare won in ’95.”
And it was the other way around again in 2017.
By the way Galway have won five All-Irelands since the Rising, while Clare have won three.
As long one of them adds to that total is the big thing.
Then they’ll both drink to it.
Same as it ever has been.