Stack 'has a job to do' with Clonlara as Banner legend reluctantly plots Sixmilebridge's downfall in Clare final
Published 10/10/2015 | 02:30
At the end of the 2013 Munster club final, Seán Stack was standing near the corner flag, detached from the celebrating Na Piarsaigh players, completely dislocated from the delirium coursing through everyone else in the club.
The Limerick side had delivered a near complete performance, hammering Sixmilebridge by 18 points, but Stack's emotions were with the dejected opposition.
"I'll be in the 'Bridge tonight, nothing surer," said Stack a few minutes later. "My heart goes out to them. The 'Bridge have big ambitions and that's where I always belong."
Nobody could appreciate those contrasting emotions better than Stack. Twenty years earlier, he was coaching Toomevara when they met the Sixmilebridge side he was part of in the 1993 Munster club final.
Twelve days beforehand, Stack travelled to Toomevara and asked the players to accept that he would be doing everything in his power over the following two weeks to try and beat them. After Toomevara won, Stack resumed his duties and led them to an All-Ireland final.
Stack was able to step aside back then but he couldn't with Na Piarsaigh. Two years on, Stack finds himself in a similar, but different, predicament.
Tomorrow, he coaches Clonlara against Sixmilebridge in the Clare county final. His situation is all the more odd because Stack is so intrinsically connected to the history and culture of the 'Bridge.
He captained the club to their first county senior title in 1977. When Sixmilebridge won their first Munster title in 1984, Stack was captain and coach. He finished his career with seven county titles.
He has the distinction of winning titles in five different decades, because six years after retiring from senior hurling, Stack returned to win a Junior B title in 2000.
His last official game for the 'Bridge was in 2007 when he played in goals for the Intermediate team against Feakle. He was 54 at the time.
After managing the 'Bridge senior team in 2004, Stack guided a significant number of the current Sixmilebridge side to an U-21 'A' title in 2009, the same year he took over Na Piarsaigh.
They were hammered in that year's Limerick final by Adare but Stack managed Na Piarsaigh to a maiden county title in 2011, and another in 2013. They were also Munster champions in both of those seasons.
Sunday will be his 16th county final, as either a player or manager; nine with the 'Bridge, three with Toomevara and three with Na Piarsaigh. It was that kind of experience which Clonlara were seeking when they went after Stack this season.
Although the 'Bridge have been a dominant force at underage in Clare, this Clonlara team have been spearheaded by a golden generation: John Conlon, Darach Honan, Domhnall and Cormac O'Donovan, Nicky and Cathal 'Tots' O'Connell, Colm Galvin.
Ian Galvin scored ten points from play for the Clare U-21s against Waterford and Limerick this summer and was selected on the Bord Gáis U-21 team of the year last weekend.
When Clonlara won their first senior title in 89 years in 2008, they looked set to become a serious force, with such a young crop of rich talent.
They had five starters on the Clare U-21 team which won the county's first All-Ireland in 2009 - Conlon, Honan, the O'Donovans and Nicky O'Connell.
Yet they lost the following year's county final to Cratloe to an injury-time goal and the following years were defined by disappointment and underachievement. Sunday is their first final appearance since 2009.
Stack has put his stamp on the team. Conlon has gone to centre-back, the two O'Connells have formed a midfield partnership, with Colm Galvin operating up front. Stack has also made some hard and controversial calls, dropping big names.
Although Stack only spent one year as a coach at inter-county senior level - with Ger Loughnane's Clare in 1999 - another county final appearance enhances his profile.
Apart from Niall Gilligan, most of the current 'Bridge team would have never seen Stack play but nobody in the club is in any doubt as to how good he was and of the immense legacy he left.
With Clare, he played in eight provincial finals, one at minor, two at U-21 and five at senior, losing every one. He made 28 championship appearances over a career which spanned 14 years.
He won an All-Star in 1981, and he was chosen as centre-back on a special non-All-Ireland-winning Team of the Century in 1984. When the GAA selected a 'Stars of the 1980s' team in 2013, Stack was at centre-back.
Despite his coaching achievements elsewhere, Stack has still always been so indelibly linked to the 'Bridge that the word on the street before the 2013 Munster club final was that he would pull back and limit his involvement when going up against his own.
But Stack just got down to business. After linking arms with the squad before the National Anthem, he had the last word with the Na Piarsaigh players in the huddle before the game began.
On Sunday, it's just business again.
"It has been frustrating for me, no doubt about that," said Stack earlier this week. "There are 16 (senior) clubs in Clare and what are the chances of us meeting the 'Bridge in the final? Then again, there were 64 odd clubs in Munster and I ended up facing the 'Bridge in a final there too (in 2013).
"Look, it is an awkward position to be in but hurling people understand I have a job to do with Clonlara. So I have to put the 'Bridge to one side and that's what I will do."
For 60 minutes tomorrow, Stack will battle against his own. And then he will be one of them again.