'It's hurt that drives you on. It was a big motivational factor'
Accordion-playing All Star Brendan Bugler has an extra incentive to hit the high notes with his club Whitegate, writes Marie Crowe
In the week after the All-Ireland hurling final, Clare FM was inundated with requests for tunes by Seamus Bugler featuring his son Brendan. The video of the Clare star playing the accordion in the dressing room in Croke Park went viral and the public were crying out for more.
And while that unique and jubilant scene is one that will be forever etched in the memories of hurling fans, it was more than just a moment of celebration for Bugler. The Whitegate man isn't one of the new breed of Clare hurlers who have only experienced the good times. While most of his team-mates have now won All-Irelands with the under 21s and the seniors and are only embarking on the careers, Bugler is from a different era, a time when Clare couldn't even win a championship match.
Just two years ago Bugler thought his inter-county career was over after Clare were hammered by Galway in a qualifier in Salthill. For all the wrong reasons, it's a game he'll never forget.
"That for me was the worst day ever," says Bugler. "I didn't even know whether I'd be back on the panel for the next year. That was the most embarrassing day in a Clare jersey because we showed no fight. To lose by 18 points was tough to take but the manner in which we just fell apart after 10 minutes was disgraceful."
Bugler, though, is the type of hurler who doesn't give up. When he wants something he will fight for it as he has demonstrated so many times in the last two years.
Bugler leads by example on and off the field; he is always working on being a better player. When he heard that box jumps would help improve speed he started doing them. When foam rollers came onto the market to help recovery he was one of the first people in Clare to purchase one. He buys into every aspect of professional preparation. His diet is as clean as a boxer trying to make weight. Skinless chicken fills his fridge and each morning he starts his day with a fruit smoothie.
When Davy Fitzgerald took over, he threw Bugler a lifeline. "One of his big, big traits is that he's unbelievable at removing negativity within a room, within a squad and within a set-up," says Bugler of his manager. "He can get everyone on board and thinking of the one thing. He's just a great, great leader and we're lucky to have him."
Bugler repaid the faith shown in him ten times over. The way the 28-year-old so often attacked the ball and burst out of defence was a testament to how much he wanted to be wearing the Clare jersey.
And when Bugler needed to evolve his game to suit his manager's plans he did so without hesitation. Over the last two years he has become more disciplined, learned how to tackle properly and worked on keeping his free count low.
While winning an All Star last year was a nice personal achievement, it was only the beginning for Bugler. He knew the team he was on could go places and even when they crashed out of the Munster championship he didn't lose hope. After that defeat to Cork, Fitzgerald summoned the team to his house on the outskirts of Sixmilebridge for a chat. He served Mi-Wadi and custard creams, they spoke about what had happened and what could still happen. "I thought it was a great thing to do. It was a great gesture. I left the house that night feeling . . . you know, you wouldn't have thought the day before that you'd lost a Munster championship match. That says a lot about the guy. It was literally just a talk between ourselves.
"The message was that there was another chance. That we're not gone. In other years we didn't see the bigger picture that there was another competition there to play for. Okay, we'd put all our eggs in that basket to win another Munster and it didn't happen. But we regrouped.
"It's hurt that drives you on. That was a big motivational factor all year as well. We knew how we felt going into Fitzy's house that night. We knew how we'd felt going into the dressing room after the Cork game when we'd put in such a big effort and we didn't want to experience that hurt again."
It seems that everything Fitzgerald did throughout the season, however unorthodox, paid dividends. Bugler admits that from being involved with this Clare team he has grown as a person and is in a much happier place than he was after losing to Galway in 2011.
"The set-up is a great place to be; to develop you as a person as well as a hurler, the discipline that is in place. That's the message we are trying to give to kids in the county after winning an All-Ireland."
Not that there has been much time for that either, as club hurling and football commitments have kicked in. Today he captains Whitegate against Newmarket-on-Fergus in the intermediate semi-final.
"There is an extra incentive now to go on and win with the club. Before the All-Ireland replay I wanted to win the club but since it I want to win it a lot, lot more. Because ok I'm captain of the club number one and number two I've experienced unbelievable highs in the last month. And I'd love for the guys to have that experience as well. I'll be doing everything in my power anyway to try to get that."
And although he only took up football three years ago, he is an integral part of the Cratloe team who are favourites to win the senior title after their shock exit from the hurling championship.
It's a busy time for the full-time hurler and part-time footballer but from having experienced the good and the bad of Clare hurling, he wouldn't change a thing.