Record scorer in the league says ‘maybe fellas are sick of me saying it in there that I’m done this year’ ahead of quarter-final duel with Derry in Croke Park
Bouncing west out of Ennis, something changes. Suddenly the place names and signposts hold a different association. Clare is hurling heartland no doubt, but point your nose for the Atlantic and you are deep in football country.
Some of the county’s heavy-hitting clubs sit cheek by jowl there. Kilkee, Kilrush and Kilmurry Ibrickane are necklaced along the coastline. Cooraclare are maybe 10 minutes inland. And amongst them sits Doonbeg.
Doonbeg is something of a contradiction. West Clare has a long association with traditional Irish music but Doonbeg has a jazz festival. It is a typical summer holiday village but has a noted Christmas market.
And like many other towns on the western edge, it regularly hosts the rich and the famous; attracted by the world-class golf at the Donald Trump-owned hotel and links course. What is probably lost on most visitors is that Doonbeg is also home to the most prolific forward league football has ever seen.
It’s a few days before Clare face Derry in an All-Ireland quarter-final but David Tubridy has more immediate concerns. He and his family are readying their bar and restaurant for another busy evening’s trade.
Doonbeg does well all year round but businesses have to capitalise on high summer too. There’s an American family due that evening and they’ll host a 91st birthday celebration the following night. Both parties are visiting from the Trump hotel. Whatever about the politics of the Oval Office, the Tubridys make no secret that the hotel and its residents have been good for them and West Clare as a whole.
“Where else do you get a golf resort that shuttle their visitors down to the village any time they want to?” asks Tommy Tubridy, David’s father and himself a former Clare footballer.
All manner of people have come through their door. Everyone from baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jnr to Eric Trump just a couple of weeks ago. Some of their famous guests and some great teams adorn the walls.
Ger Loughnane’s All-Ireland winners from the 1990s sit close to the Doonbeg class of 1998, the first Clare team to win a Munster club football title.
Photos bear witness to the fact that Jim Gavin brought the Dublin footballers there more than once, while in the restaurant a picture of American football quarterback Dan Marino sits opposite a smiling Coleen Rooney. Rooney is pictured celebrating the afters of the wedding of Stereophonics front man Kelly Jones. The photo of Marino is from his playing days and has its own yarn.
“We had the picture of Marino hung up because David liked him as a child,” says Tommy, picking up the story. “And didn’t he come to eat one night and he saw his photo on the wall. He must have been happy anyway because he got up and signed it. We were delighted.
“The next morning I came in, and one of the cleaners was just finishing up. She said to me: ‘Tommy you wouldn’t believe it but someone wrote on that lovely photo of the American football player. It’s okay though, I managed to scrub it off.’”
Tommy Tubridy is a force of nature. He has a thousand stories, only some of them about football. He’s passionate about football and his club and his community. He’s frustrated by the impasse surrounding the sea defence the hotel wants to build close to the 18th hole.
Simultaneously, he’s enthused to see people return to the area on the back of the pandemic and delighted that children of non-Irish nationals join the Doonbeg football academy David runs. He reports proudly that the local national school won a Clare title recently.
But in football terms, his playing career came at a most inopportune time. Kerry were kings of Ireland, let alone Munster, for most of his days with Clare. And while he trained briefly under John Maughan, he was gone before the breakthrough in 1992. He did, however, play in the ‘Milltown Massacre’ where Clare conceded nine goals to Kerry and lost by 32 points.
“I was painting the house one day after that and a fella shouts up to me ‘you’re a disgrace, you’re a disgrace to the county’. That didn’t stop me playing though.”
So he knows these are good times for Clare football.
After the heroics against Roscommon, another visit to Croke Park beckons.
“Since Colm Collins took over it’s been fantastic, really professional. It’s great to be in Croke Park, it’s not too often we get up there. And to be there last Sunday and seeing (Jamie Malone kick the ball over the bar. Oh God tonight. Manna from heaven.”
Whether he knew it or not, it was all laid out for David Tubridy. Born in Clare football’s bible belt and the son of a former Banner footballer, the path for him was clear.
With his father acting in various roles with the team after he finished playing, he grew up at Clare training.
Tommy remembers that “from nine months old he was following the ball”.
And as soon as he was able, he was encouraged and cajoled to work on both feet, something that stands to him still.
David was just four when the county’s dairy herd went on holidays in ’92. He now owns one of the most treasured keepsakes in the county’s football history. For that year’s All-Ireland semi-final, Clare flew to Dublin from Shannon. The jersey the young Tubridy wore to the Munster final somehow made its way onto the plane and was passed from seat to seat and signed by the whole squad. It sits now, framed in the bar.
“I could list everyone on that squad off by heart,” Tubridy smiles now.
From his debut in the Tommy Murphy Cup under Páidí Ó Sé to last week’s heroics in Croke Park, there have been good days and bad. But there was never a thought of stepping away to greener pastures. Or at least ones not beset with so many landmines and disappointments.
“I was always going to be playing with the county whatever happens. You’d have fellas coming into the bar telling you to forget about the county, stick with the club. I think that’s what the problem was, there was that mentality inside the county ‘they’re going nowhere, they’re not going to win anything, concentrate on the club’.
“A lot of top players at the time, players I would have thought would have walked on to the county team, concentrated more on the club team so that was the problem with Clare at the time. But Colm came. And he brought belief.”
Under Collins, Tubridy became the top scorer in the history of the National League, a testament to his talent, durability and dedication.
To mark the achievement, the hotel honoured him with a lifetime membership of the golf club.
If Tubridy wasn’t playing football or working he was probably at the golf course. He plays off six now and caddied there when he was younger for the likes of Hugh Grant (“a sound fella”) and Gary Player (“different gravy golfer”).
In time, he’ll make full use of that honour but golf can wait. For now the mission is to eke everything he can out of his 35-year-old frame. A persistent Achilles problem needs managing and against Roscommon, he had a new experience when he was held in reserve from the start.
“It’s tough, 15 years I was playing and I was starting,” he offers. “Colm came up to me on the Thursday before training and said, ‘listen, we are going to go a different way, we want impact off the bench’.
“And as my father said you can go home and sulk or else you can get there and prove them wrong. It was gas, he (Tommy) texted me the night before, Dad has one of those old-style phones, it takes him an age to write a text.
“But he said you’re going to come on, kick the winner in the 73rd minute. I didn’t kick the winner but I set up the winner in the 75th minute. He’s been a great help.”
The football community in the county is small but devout. West Clare, and beyond, will evacuate to Croke Park today.
“The supporters who have followed us over the years, they have been everywhere. You see them after every game, the parents of the players and the die-hard supporters who have followed us up the country.
“I think it was special when we got promoted from Division 4, the fellas that were there never gave up on us. And it’s a great reward for those people where we are right now, heading back to Croke Park for an All-Ireland quarter-final.”
Derry won by nine points when they came to Ennis last February but Tubridy feels like they will be better prepared for the Rory Gallagher puzzle this time. This will be his fifth time to play in Croke Park but he’s in no mood the write the final chapter.
“It goes through your head, you think about it the odd time. And maybe fellas are sick of me saying it in there that I’m done this year. I’ve maybe been saying that for a few years but when you’ve been at it so long to step away from it . . .
“I would be thinking, with the free time what would you do? It has come across my head that this could be the final hurrah. But we’ll wait until we get there for that.”