Clare boys crowned kings of the 'Castle
HURLING'S greatest revolution of the 1990s continued unchecked yesterday when Clarecastle, the fiercely proud hurling village on the edge of Ennis, collected the Munster club title for the first time.
It may have been the Magpies crowning day, but their victory also serves to confirm the trend of Clare teams triumphing in major competitions.
By beating Patrickswell of Limerick by 2-11 to 0-15 in a thrilling match at Semple Stadium, Clarecastle made it three in a row for Clare teams.
And they are now charged with the task of following in the footsteps of previous winners, Sixmilebridge and Wolfe Tones, both of whom went on to contest All-Ireland finals. Sixmilebridge actually won the title in 1996, while Wolfe Tones lost to Athenry last St Patrick's Day.
This success further underlines the 1990s as the Decade of the Banner, with two Munster and All-Ireland senior inter-county titles, along with the 1997 All-Ireland minor title.
Anthony Daly, the celebrated Clare captain who lifted the Munster and All-Ireland titles in 1995 and 1997, spoke about the different feeling that came with a Clarecastle win.
``It is different when you win with Clarecastle,'' he said in the dressingroom after the energy-sapping clash.
``In many ways, with the county you are looking after yourself, with 40,000 people looking on. For Clarecastle, it's the pride of the village and the pride of the parish. It is a great feeling to have won - a different feeling and a great feeling.''
Daly was joined on the victorious Clare team by All-Ireland colleagues, Ger O'Loughlin and Fergie Tuohy. It capped a memorable weekend for O'Loughlin, who won an Eircell All-Stars award in Dublin on Friday night.
The Clarecastle club were so anxious to ensure that O'Loughlin's preparations for the Munster final were not hampered unduly that they flew him up to Dublin on Friday - and back down again on Saturday morning for training. And it was early to bed for the attacking wizard after receiving the coveted award.
Yesterday, the kudos fell to two lesser-known members of the Clarecastle attack, Danny Scanlan and Kenny Ralph. Between them they scored 1-8 (Ralph 1-4, Scanlan 0-4) and the versatility of the team stands as one of Clarecastle's biggest strengths.
Scanlan, whose brother Bernard also hurled brilliantly at left corner-back, told of how much it meant to him to play on such a big stage.
``Thurles is the finest field in Ireland,'' he said, ``and we knew that it was important to take our chance when it came along. It's great that Bernard is on the team, too.
``When you look around at the team we have, you realise that we have some great players. People like Anthony Daly, Ger O'Loughlin and Fergus Tuohy - they put an awful lot into ensuring that we are right for big matches.
``They put it in in training, too, and it makes a huge difference. This is a very, very special day.''
Clarecastle, who had to withstand a determined second-half surge from Patrickswell, now fly out to London next weekend to play St Gabriel's.
If they win that, they will play Birr in the All-Ireland semi-final. ``There was a theory around Clarecastle for a while that we would win the Munster title - and lose in London,`` said Daly.
``We will be taking the game very seriously and it's important that we keep up our concentration now.''
Patrickswell's day got off to a bad start when Ciaran Carey picked up a shoulder injury that curtailed his usual all-action game, but another former All-Star Gary Kirby carried the team with a personal tally of eleven points.