Saturday 16 December 2017

Clare's munster miracle

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

It was Jack O'Shea's last ever inter-county game for Kerry and Seamus Moynihan's first, the brief confluence of two of the greatest modern-day Gaelic football careers.

But those milestones were quickly submerged by the shock events that the 1992 Munster football final in Limerick's Gaelic Grounds threw up.

Clare's only provincial football title in the last 95 years represented one of the great shocks of modern times.

It sparked a euphoria around the county rarely seen before and it broke barriers across the football and hurling landscape -- it allowed other teams dare to dream.

With Clare back in a Munster final this weekend for only the third time in the 20 intervening years, it has prompted plenty of nostalgia. Two decades on, the story of how a 28-year-old army man from Mayo transformed the fortunes of a county from football's backwaters has come alive again.

Only 13 years earlier Clare shipped 9-21 against Kerry in what became known as the 'Miltown Massacre' (the Banner registered 1-9 that dark day).

Clare manager John Maughan, the team's colourful midfielder Tom Morrissey, team captain Francis McInerney, selector and Clare football's administrative icon Noel Walsh and beaten Kerry manager Mickey Ned O'Sullivan share their thoughts on an unforgettable day.

John Maughan: "I've never fully established who it was that recommended me for the Clare job. The presumption was made that it was Colonel Noel Walsh. We shared a background in the Defence Forces, I would have coached Defence Forces' teams after I stopped playing with an injury at the age of 25. But if it was Noel, I couldn't be certain.

"I was living in Salthill and commuting to Athlone. I got a phone call from Clare County Board and went to meet two representatives, Tom Downes and Michael Lee, who I think was the football board chairman. We met in Sullivan's Hotel in Gort.

"We initially talked about a coaching role, but after a while it became apparent to me that they weren't sure what to do. I said: 'Give me the whole lot.' Things were at a low ebb.

"There was no level of expectation. For the first training session in Crusheen, I think we had maybe 11 or 12 players. Five or six of those didn't last long. We deliberately sought challenge matches that we knew we could win."

Noel Walsh: "Of course, I had recommended him. I was his boss in Galway for a while. I initially had Tony Regan in mind. He mentioned Maughan too."

Francis McInerney: "We actually hadn't a bad team for a few years before that. Dave Weldrick had come out from the university in Limerick and players like Noel Roche and Gerry Killeen had really kept it together. If it wasn't for them ... "

NW: "Oh, we were in disarray before Maughan came. In the 1990 Munster championship we lost to Tipperary by something like 18 points in Clonmel. Ten of that team beat Kerry two years later."

JM: "It took time for it to get any better. Even for our first league game in the 1990/91 campaign, I remember looking around and counting no more than five or six in the stand. The basics just weren't there. Even proper food after training.

"Some players just didn't want to come in. It wasn't attractive. They had become disillusioned. The likes of Tom Morrissey had talent, but he had got cheesed off over having to thumb home from a hospital after picking up an injury with Clare U-21s."

Tom Morrissey: "I'll tell you the full story now.

"In 1990 we went up to play Sligo. Noel Walsh was over the team, but he was late, so Donal Clancy (selector with Maughan and father of Seamus) and Martin Flynn picked the team. I ended up as a sub.

"I was a divil for the fags. I lit up in the dugout during the game and Walsh got on to me. 'Are you interested in playing for Clare at all?' he said to me pointing at the cigarette. I wasn't that bothered.

"Anyway I came on in the game and within 10 minutes I was caught in a sandwich between two Sligo players. I was in agony on the way back down on the bus.

"The next day I went to the hospital in Ennis and they discovered two fractured ribs. I was out of work for five or six weeks.

"I put in a claim under the insurance and I got the exact sum of IR£21.90 back, IR£10 for the hospital fee and IR£11.90 for the prescription painkillers. I told them to f**k off and I didn't play for the county again for nearly two years."

JM: "I suppose I brought organisation to it. At that stage there was a certain discipline and structure to my life, basic things like timekeeping.

"We trained hard, sometimes very hard. I was young and able to do a lot of it myself. We did great sessions out on Lahinch beach and around by the golf club. It was as much for mental as physical conditioning.

"And there were great sacrifices made. Frankie Griffin came home from London every weekend for training and matches. That was a time now when travel wasn't as cheap nor as regular as it is now.

"Within a year we had won the All-Ireland 'B' championship. It was an All-Ireland title and for Clare it felt like the real deal."

TM: " I'll never forget training under him the first night. He had asked me to come in a year earlier and I said no. It was January 1992 and I was bent over in two after half an hour. It was bad. We ran for an hour-and-a-half solid.

"The hurlers would also train in Crusheen. They would come after us and leave before us for their steaks in Ennis! But I'd say after about the fifth session, I was getting used to it. I was still hard on the fags, though.

"We were up in Ballinasloe before a Meath game in the hotel and Maughan caught me at the machine buying 20. 'Jesus Tom can you not give up them fags!' he shouted at me.

"'Sure I need something to slow me down', I replied.

"I gave them up. Don't know how long I lasted -- maybe three weeks.

"Lahinch used to kill me. I didn't do it all, though. On an odd night I was injured! Maughan could do it all himself. So, too, would the wife Audrey. Jaysus we couldn't keep with her!

"It was outrageous what he asked us to do when I look back on it. Up to your knees in muck in Ballyline in the middle of November."

JM: "The big thing, obviously, was the open draw which Noel Walsh pushed for and and got in 1991. That was the breakthrough. Whatever about beating one of the 'big two' in the Munster championship, it was nigh on impossible to beat both..."

NW: "The previous 40 Munster finals were between Cork and Kerry. It suited them. All Kerry had to do was prepare for the third Sunday in July.

"For any of the other Munster teams, they would have to beat Cork and Kerry to win a Munster title.

"Sure Dublin or Tyrone wouldn't do that right now. Since the open draw has come in, there have been just 13 finals between Cork and Kerry. It has opened it all up."

FMcI: "Clare was full of big club rivalries too. I'm from Doonbeg and we're surrounded by clubs everywhere. It's fierce strong. John managed to bring it altogether, though, and create great spirit."

TM: "Before we beat Tipperary in the 1992 Munster semi-final, we played Roscommon in a challenge match in Kiltoom and it was that day I really started to believe we could win a Munster championship.

"We were five points down when a row broke out with 10 minutes to go. Gerry Killeen and Des Newton were at it. It kicked off everywhere.

"I was marking John Newton. He was about 6' 5" -- two inches taller than me and the next ball that came between us, I didn't go for it. I pulled back and caught him on the jaw then waited for retaliation. When it came I managed to duck and he got Aidan Moloney behind me!

"We won by five points."

FMcI: We played Meath in a league quarter-final in Ballinasloe. Meath had all their big guns out, the great full-forward line were playing and we held them to two points. We lost 0-8 to 0-6. We knew then we could compete with anyone."

JM: "We gathered in the West County Hotel in Ennis on the morning of the match and I really had a wonderful feeling that we were going to win the game. That can happen a couple of times in your life. You get an instinct and it doesn't leave you. I think everyone quietly felt it."

Mickey Ned O'Sullivan: "I was worried about it. I felt something in advance. We had beaten Cork two years running, but I felt that no matter how much you put it to them, they were already looking ahead to a possible All-Ireland semi-final with Dublin.

"There was one car with three or four in it late arriving in Adare. I won't say who they were. They blamed traffic. The traffic was heavy, but you would never allow that to happen. You'd be an hour early even allowing for the traffic. It wasn't good preparation."

JM: "I just didn't feel Kerry were as formidable as they had been. I remember 'Rosie' (Ambrose O'Donovan) had been dropped and there was a bit of controversy about that. We knew he'd come on at some stage and we tried to paint various pictures of what might happen."

MN O'S: "Dropping Ambrose O'Donovan was obviously a big call. Seamus Moynihan had finished his Leaving Cert two weeks before and I had gone to 'The Sem' (St Brendan's secondary school) in Killarney and invited him to training the night that he finished.

"I was teaching in Ballyvourney and I had come across him in colleges football. He was the best young talent I had ever seen. I felt he was ready to go straight into the senior team even after a couple of weeks. He was that good. I'd stand over that decision for ever.

"We had something like 21 U-21s in the Kerry panel. Jacko, Pat Spillane, Ambrose were there, maybe Bomber for a while, but there was a huge gap there between players in their mid-30s and the U-21s."

TM: "We had 1-3 missed in the first seven or eight minutes before we scored at all. Gerry Killeen missed the penalty then Colm Clancy scored a point to settle us down.

"I was only looking at the DVD a few days ago and I couldn't believe that there were 25,000 people in Limerick that day.

"A couple of things stood out. Seamus Clancy's performance at corner-back. And for me, a catch I made in the dying minutes from James Hanrahan's kick-out and a drive through the middle to set up Gerry Killeen's point. It put it beyond doubt."

FMcI: "James Hanrahan's save -- I think from Maurice Fitzgerald -- I'll always remember that.

"At the end, a strange thing happened. The referee Paddy Russell handed me the ball before he blew the final whistle. I still have it. All the lads signed it. Even Jack O'Shea signed it. Noel Walsh's wife Ursula got him to sign it!"

MN O'S: "I recall very little about that game itself. It's buried in some dark chamber of my mind!

"I had left my car in Adare on the way up. Mick Holly brought me back after the game. Mick is dead now, but was a well known builder. He was very active in the supporters club.

"The journey out was quiet naturally. We were passing a graveyard when Mick said to me: 'There are plenty of people in there who would like to be where you are.' He said it of course to give some me perspective on the afternoon.

"Did it achieve that? I'm not sure it did at the time! You hear about football being a matter of life and death. It was Kerry's first defeat in something like 60 years to Clare. And it has happened on your watch. It's devastating. But Clare deserved their win.

"They don't do transitions in Kerry. There is no such thing as a three-year plan. It's a one-year plan. That never changes.

"I took the defeat on the chin. I'm sure there were plenty of things being said, but no one was brave enough to say it to my face. There was no personal animosity that I came across.

"I was involved with Micko as a selector from 1984 to '87. You could see problems for the future building then, even though we were winning. I said to him that, if we weren't going to introduce new blood, I had no business here. I pulled out after that. There was no effort to bring them in.

"I insisted on taking the Kerry U-21s during my time as senior manager. We won the Munster title in 1990, '91 and '92.

"I knew myself that my time was up. I waited a few weeks before announcing the decision. I knew there was no point."

NW: "We did a tour of the county on the Monday and Tuesday nights. There was music and dancing everywhere we went from Lissycasey to Kilrush and on over to Miltown-Malbay.

"Between Lahinch and Miltown there's a place called Rineen. The team's centre-back JJ Rouine is from there. It was the scene of a 1921 ambush and as we were driving through, there were a number of people up on the hill. They were firing shotguns over us and lighting flares. They were re-enacting the ambush in acclaim of Clare's victory! It was a fantastic moment.

"We could have gone on into Wednesday night, but we had to call a halt and go back training again."

JM: "For me, the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin in Croke Park really stood out. The colour and the singing of the Percy French songs in the stand. This was their moment and the people of Clare were living it up."

FMcI: "Did we overdo it after the Munster final? Well I'm not a drinker and some of the rest weren't either. But we only lost to Dublin by five points and had a goal disallowed."

NW: "Seamus Clancy got our All Star, but I would contend that Tom (Morrissey) didn't get an All Star because of an incident with Charlie Redmond. JJ Rouine took the blame for it, but it was Tom who hit him when he was running by. That cost him."

TM: "Martin Flynn is great for keeping the thing going. He's trying to organise a match between those Clare and Dublin teams from 1992. I haven't seen Redmond since I hit him that whack in that game. It would be great."

JM: "Martin is great. He keeps in contact with everyone. Deaths, births, everything.

"I felt I struck up a wonderful rapport with the Clare people. There was something that resonated with me about them. The west Clare people, their earthiness, how genuine they were. There was fantastic soul to them.

"Before the All-Ireland final in 1996, Francie Daly -- Martin's dad -- came up to Mayo and drove around for about four hours, Castlebar to Crossmolina, looking for me just to give me a good luck card.

"I have great friends in Clare. I keep in regular contact with Jack Horgan. He has the post office in Cree. Our daughter Sally Rose was born during my time in Clare. She's 19 now and her godparents, Paudie and Mary Neenan, are from Clare.

"I've been down for a cycle organised by Seamus Clancy for his daughter and there's a run in early August dedicated to our late masseur Dan Halloran, who passed away two years ago. His son is organising it and I hope to make it."

TM: "I don't think I'll cycle. I had the hip done two years ago. I'm 42 now and honestly it has taken 10 years off my life... I'd advise anyone to go and get it. No more pain.

"When I came back from the US in 1999 the doctor Tom Nolan sent me for a X-ray and established that I needed it even then. All the belting I got on the football field caught up with me.

"I'm great now. I even togged out for Cooraclare in a junior match recently. They didn't play me though. I was bulling. We had two subs, they used the other fella and then put on the fella they had taken off again. I was left on my a**e!"

Irish Independent

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