Thursday 27 October 2016

Sinead Kissane: Ignoring the world order in counties where hurling is king

Published 12/06/2015 | 02:30

Seamus Clancy, who helped Clare record a shock victory over Kerry in 1992
Seamus Clancy, who helped Clare record a shock victory over Kerry in 1992

Bananas and boots. Let's go back to a time when only one of these came in the colour yellow. For the Banner's only football All Star Seamus Clancy, bananas and boots were small signs of progression for the Clare football team.

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Seamus remembers the first time a box of bananas was brought into the dressing-room and the awe they felt at the free fruit. He also remembers the first time he was asked for his size for a free pair of boots.

What didn't go down as well was how they were treated compared to the Clare hurlers. The Clare football manager John Maughan made the most of this slight to hot-rod the team. While the hurlers were brought out for hot dinners after training, the footballers had to make do with corned beef sandwiches in the dressing-room in Ballyline. Pointing this out, Maughan used to tell them that "you get what you deserve". It cranked up emotions that "no one gives a sugar about us" Seamus recalls. "We'll show everybody".

And they did.

The week before Clare's 1992 Munster Football final win over Kerry, Seamus was shaking with nerves. But on the morning of the final, the players met at the West County Hotel in Ennis and they were so at ease "it was like as if we were going off to the beach for the day".

When they sat in the dressing-room in the Gaelic Ground in Limerick before the game, Seamus said it was one of the most surreal experiences. Why? "Because we just knew that we were going to beat Kerry. We felt we were invincible."

Invincible. Bananas have a natural habitat in dressing-rooms these days. You can get your boots in whatever shade you like. But the feeling of being invincible is one some players, irrespective of generation, decade or status, may never get to experience.

The world order didn't matter to Seamus back then. He knew they were loaded with hard training and had form at their back. He believes weaker counties have just as much a right to dream as the high rollers. "You can't think it's going to happen unless you dream it's going to happen," says Seamus.

On Sunday, Clare and Tipperary play Cork and Kerry respectively in the Munster football semi-finals. I'll chance a guess here and imagine how much the current Clare and Tipp players would love that same feeling of invincibility that Seamus and co felt that day in 92.

Tipperary's two-time All Star winner Declan Browne used to be guided by a mix of optimism and realism when Tipp started their championship: "We would be very optimistic that we could beat anyone. Realistically though, you had to think that Cork or Kerry could have a bad day and that was when we could catch them".

One of the highlights of Declan's career was winning the Tommy Murphy Cup with Tipp in Croke Park in 2005. However when Division 4 teams like Tipp were excluded from playing in the qualifiers and re-routed to the Tommy Murphy Cup, it was a factor in Declan's decision to retire from inter-county football. "We should have had the same rights as the top teams. It was a huge mistake and a big insult".

In June 2004, the Tipp football team was made to feel inferior when the county board refused to postpone a club hurling game which was fixed the week of Tipp's first-round football qualifier with Fermanagh.

Manager Andy Shortall stepped down - the club hurling game involved two of his panel members. As a result, the players made themselves unavailable and Fermanagh got a walk-over. The Tipp players were forced into taking a stand. And they were right to take it.

Declan regrets that Tipp were never able to play their best hand. "Players on the hurling team would have got on some of the best football teams in the country. But those hurlers were never available to us. So we probably never put out our best starting 15".

Yet listening to Declan and Seamus talk about the basic pride they felt in playing for their counties felt like everything was being stripped back.

They played for counties which couldn't attract players through success as a reason to play, and also when playing more than one game in the knock-out format was definitely not a guarantee.

"We were so innocent that we just wanted to play," Seamus admits.

Over his 11 years in inter-county, Declan played 25 championship matches including Tommy Murphy Cup and qualifiers (on the opposite end for example, Tomas O Se played 88 games over 15 years).

Declan is excited about the talent in Tipp football. He believes they have a chance against Kerry but "maybe Sunday comes a year or two too early for this team".

Clare are without the injured Podge Collins for the game against Cork. Seamus felt like it was a landmark day for Clare football when Collins announced he was playing football only for his county.

"That was the first statement without even a ball being kicked," Seamus says. "Podge's decision made me feel so proud. It's great to follow a Clare football team that you can be proud of. It lifts our spirits."

Like how he lifted the spirits of Clare folk in 92. Driving back from Limerick with his dad and brother after that win over Kerry, Seamus remembers having "a lovely feeling in the pit of my stomach".

Forget free bananas and boots. That is a feeling money could never buy.

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