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When poor relation was head of the Banner family

Dermot Crowe recalls an historic day when Clare footballers broke the stranglehold of Cork and Kerry in Munster

VIEWED from this age of relentless innovation and spectacular commitment, the Gaelic football world the Clare team inhabited 20 years ago already seems antiquated. Yet they were pioneers of their day. The maniacal training John Maughan subjected them to, for a county with little real ambition previously, was ahead of its time and somewhat revolutionary.

The first session lured only 13 to Crusheen, but before long they were starting to see some method in his madness. Many times they assembled on Lahinch beach for gruelling ordeals. There was a story that the colourful midfielder Tom Morrissey claimed a horse allergy at a particularly tough session in the Showgrounds in Ennis. It took some coaxing from Maughan to persuade him to continue. Later Tom was seen splashing his face from one of the water-troughs set out for the horses, with no apparent side-effects.

However true or otherwise these stories, it hardly mattered in a way. They had become a story and people were interested in their welfare. In the monotonous world of Munster football, they were an ethereal presence, a splash of colour. After Limerick's appearance in the 1965 Munster football final, Cork and Kerry sectioned off provincial finals for 26 years before Clare's intervention in 1992. Their appearance in itself was noteworthy, helped by the open draw, campaigned for tirelessly by Noel Walsh.

Not every cow-milker in Clare was in the Gaelic Grounds in July 1992 to see them win their first Munster senior football title in 75 years. An amused Kerry friend present says he heard one of their number at one stage calling for a '65.

The day was historic in many ways. Amid the wild celebrations, Jack O'Shea's career ended and Seamus Moynihan's began. Eight years later, the counties met at the same venue in another Munster final. Moynihan captained Kerry to a resounding victory, going on to add the All-Ireland and Footballer of the Year. By then Clare's star had fallen.

Before that Munster final, Clare's last, the former team selector Noel Roche looked across the Shannon Estuary at Kerry from his Kilkee home and wondered why such a small gap should correspond to a massive chasm in football terms. His first match was against Kerry in that infamous Miltown Massacre of 1979, 9-21 to 1-9. He soldiered on because he loved playing, but for many years there were only seven or eight who shared his passion and the training numbers reflected the apathy.

In his 14th year as a player, he won a Munster medal he could never have thought possible.

In the 2000 final, they were well beaten, 3-15 to 0-8. Clare floored Cork in 1997 and made a serious contest of the final against Kerry. But three years later they were outclassed. Two of the 1992 team started the day. Maughan had long gone and they were on their second manager since his departure.

The crowd for the 2000 Munster final was a highly respectable 23,000 which reminds us that Clare still had a following and sufficient respect to drag a sizeable contingent of Kerry supporters along as well. Today's match with Cork will do well to attract a quarter of that.

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The Clare hurlers, 60 years without a Munster title in 1992, have hoovered up most of the public interest this weekend due to last night's qualifier against Anthony Daly's Dublin in Ennis.

For a while the footballers had centre-stage and the county's affections. On Easter weekend 1993, around 10,000 travelled to Castlebar for a National League quarter-final against Mayo. Later in the summer, live television, a rarity for a first-round match, was present at Ennis for their opening title defence against Cork. But Colin Corkery stole the show and the party finished prematurely.

A year later, they blew a championship game against Tipperary, Maughan left, and it has never been the same since. By the time they reached their next Munster final, the county hurlers had won one All-Ireland and were on their way to adding a second. Hurling had reclaimed the county's interest and football reverted to its familiar role as poor relation.

In 15 Munster Championship games since 2000, Clare have lost 11, their only wins being this year over Limerick and three defeats of Waterford. Tipperary and others have stolen a march. Waterford's win over Clare in 2007 was their first in the championship in 19 years. After losing to Kerry in 2000, Clare had Division 1 football to look forward to. Now they are in Division 4.

"This is our All-Ireland," says Roche. "There was more pressure on them in the semi-final. They can show the people the type of football they can play. I would hope they would go out and play with a free spirit."

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