When Clare and Limerick were kings of Munster
On June 16, 1996, Limerick's Ciaran Carey went on a brilliant solo run and scored one of hurling's greatest winning points to sink Clare in an epic Munster semi-final. Twenty years on, he and the Banner's Brian Lohan recall that famous day with Colm Keys
Colm Keys: Ger Loughnane saw it as one of the great Munster Championship days, Anthony Daly described it in his autobiography as an "eternal" day, a "day of days". And they lost! What made it that special?
Brian Lohan: The big thing for me was that it was knockout, there was no second chance. It was like a final. We knew it was going to be such a big game from our perspective anyway. We thought we were better than Limerick and this was our occasion to show it. Limerick were thinking the same, real winner-takes-all feel to it. The fact that the place was packed, such a warm day, crowned by what happened at the end with the game level.
Ciaran Carey: There would have been history to Limerick and Clare games prior to that, back in the early '90s. Any time we met there was something about the matches because I believe we were both exceptionally good, thoroughbreds on both teams, characters. When that mix is there, you are going to have something special. Clare had won the All-Ireland in 1995, they beat us in Thurles. We were there (All-Ireland) the year before, we felt '95 was a little blip for us. We were coming from different angles, but both felt 'this was it'. My other abiding memory? How stupid I was with my choice of long studs on the hard ground! I could barely walk after that game with the sores on my feet."
CK: Loughnane admitted since that, at the time, he wasn't sorry that Limerick didn't win that All-Ireland. Was that the feeling in the Clare dressing-room?
BL: There were things that happened around that time. One incident was mentioned, that Davie Clarke (Limerick wing-back) was interviewed for a Feile programme and he was asked a question 'who is your favourite team?' And he said "Clare, because we always beat them". When you take the game as seriously as we do, that was a lack of respect. It might be just one person's opinion. I know Davie well and he's a grand fella but you wouldn't have known him back then, that certainly would have been a focal point for us to concentrate on, particularly going up to '95 and '96. Personally though, I'd have liked to have seen them win one.
CK: Ciaran, the point has perhaps followed you around ever since?
CC: It does, maybe too much, even. You'd be surprised how many young people who might not even have been born then come up and say it to me.
CK: Limerick had scored three points in a short space of time to draw level. You caught Davy Fitzgerald's puck-out. What were you thinking?
CC: I made ground quickly but always felt that I was going to be taken out of it, chance of a free or I was going to commit a defender or two and pop it out to a loose man. None of the two transpired. So I was in a position then to say 'yeah okay, we might have a crack here' There was someone on my tail (Fergal Hegarty) all the time. I didn't know who it was. I just dropped the shoulder to the left, jinked to the right and put it over on the bad side. I was surprised it opened up as it did after such a tight game.
CK: And the connection?
CC: Not good (laughs). But what it did do now, because there was plenty of slagging in around training 'Carey's right side isn't great' . . . It put all that to bed! The connection didn't have to be great because I was only 25 yards out. And if I couldn't put the ball over the bar off left or right from that distance with an inter-county jersey on me there is something wrong.
BL: We had conceded the last three points in a low-scoring game. Limerick had a habit of doing that. When they got a little bit on top they were able to score fairly rapidly. (Gary) Kirby was excellent at it. When Ciaran got possession, the expectation was he was going to strike. But he kept going, going and going. Colm Flynn (Clare team doctor) has always said to me, "you should have gone". Maybe I should have gone. But you're tendency is you are always going to look after your own man.
CC: I don't think it was your place to go.
BL: Then eventually Mike O'Halloran came. He was late.
CC: Someone should have come. It certainly wasn't your place to come.
BL: I didn't think so. I was in on the edge of the square. That's always a full-back's main thought. Don't concede a goal anyway. With the heat, if you had said if a fella gets a ball on his own 45 and takes off, if he gets to 25 metres out, he'll be doing awful well to have the strength to hit the ball over the bar, given what had gone in the previous 73 minutes. It was an iconic score, you have to say.
CK: Ciaran, you caught the ball over Ollie Baker's head. He was after taking a heavy blow earlier in the game.
BL: He got a bad belt.
CC: There was an incident on the far side. (Mike) Houlihan floored the two of us.
CK: Got you as well?
CC: I think I went 'harps' alight. I ran into it quick. I remember flipping. If Mike was hovering around it, he (Ollie) got a flake alright. If he was an inch and a half near the ball it would do for Mike!
CK: Loughnane spoke about a strange atmosphere in the Limerick dressing-room afterwards when he visited. You, Ciaran, were in the corner talking to assembled media about 'having crows to pluck'! What was meant by that?
CC: Loughnane mentioned that recently. I tried to think and I came to the conclusion that I was giving a dart to 'Sparrow' (Ger O'Loughlin). But sure, it was warm!
CK: You treated yourself to a cigarette in the dressing-room afterwards!
CC: I did. When you take into consideration the match itself, intense stuff, our last three scores from Barry Foley and Gary Kirby, I got the winner. So I just felt I was entitled to an oul' fag. I wouldn't have done that too many times because it's not the place where you would do that.
CK: But that was one worth having?
CC: We hadn't the luxury of jacuzzis and champagne! I'm sure if we had we would have availed of it. So the next best thing to me was a fag!
BL: You only full appreciated afterwards that it had been something special. Speaking to supporters after the game who were there, they would have seen people from other codes, say Limerick rugby people who were at the game and looking at it in awe. When you're playing, you don't really see it that way.
CK: Limerick won a Munster title that year but didn't win an All-Ireland. Does it take from that day in any way Ciaran?
CC: I don't think so. Definitely that squad I was involved with underachieved. We won no All-Ireland. It was a thin line, we could have won three. If we had won '94 would we have been caught in '95? I believe that squad was perfectly good enough to win three. But you certainly don't have to win an All-Ireland medal to prove your worth on a hurling field. I wouldn't have changed my career. If I had a choice in the morning, three All-Ireland medals hurling for Limerick in five years or 15 years with Limerick, what would I pick? It would be the second one. I'd go for that, 15 years. You can't buy that. That's something that will stay with you until the day you die.
CK: Do you see much of that team nowadays?
CC: No, Mike might have phoned me when I lost the (Limerick) U-21 job, I might have returned the call when he lost his seat on the council. A bit of banter like that. The likes of Mike you don't have to touch base at all, you have a friend for life.
BL: There was a lot of hurt after that defeat. It was different to now. We had to wait a year and watch all the matches. That was a major motivation.
CK: Was it your hardest defeat with Clare?
BL: No, we were five up against Cork in 2005, lost it by a point. That was the one with the biggest regrets. Bigger than all of them. We had no chance to respond, it wasn't there. Seanie was gone, I was gone, stayed a year or two too long. Lynch was gone. That was it. Towards the latter part of your career it gets so hard to get up to the level, stay at that level for a period. When you are up there you have to make it count.
CK: You stayed on until 2005, Ciaran.
CC: There was a part of me thinking I might have been able to do a job in 2007 if I trained hard. As it turned out I played a bit of intermediate (2008) after that. That was me just pushing myself again. At the age of 38! Just to see would I get the opportunity to play in the 'theatre of dreams' again, Thurles. I took an awful chance. When you're 38 and you're inside at full-back, chances are that if you're not in the full of health mentally, whatever about physically, you could be cleaned in two minutes.
CK: You're both in management now but aren't taken by the tactical evolution, especially you Brian in your own county
BL: I'd be similar to a lot of people in Clare and outside of Clare, that this whole tactical dependence that is there just isn't needed. We have some really good players and it is stifling the way that we are playing and using them. If we go back to 2013, we were destroyed by Cork and then all of a sudden we changed, we were using our five or six forwards, fellas working really hard but staying in their positions. And what happened? Clare won an All-Ireland. And what happened since? We reverted back to this system, seven defenders, eight defenders, nine defenders. Gone from six forwards, traditionally, to four forwards, three forwards. Then Kilkenny sitting there watching the whole thing, playing six forwards and winning All-Ireland after All-Ireland. We have the players to be able to play a 15 v 15 game or five up front. When it happens for us that we play, we generally win. So I can't understand the thinking behind the systems, particularly when we are losing so many Championship games.
CC: It's fashionable but you're losing the individuality of it, your own principles. I believe if certain counties decided to throw 70 golden bollards on to a field, you'd have most clubs and counties doing it. Where is the bit of vision there? That type of table tennis hurling, netball hurling, call it what you like, it's not how I'd go about it. . . In regard to Limerick they're caught between a rock and a hard place, I believe they have to nail down their system that suits them. You need to let the shackles off and let them play. I'd love to come across an opposition that is playing a sweeper because that is fear straight away.
CK: These days Ciaran you've found a career you like as a counsellor in Cuan Mhuire, Bruree.
CC: I went back as a mature student in Galilee House in Athy about four years ago. I would have had a CV prior to this the length of O'Connell St, different jobs. What I am doing presently is something, passion-wise, that equals sport. I never felt that prior to now. So I suppose it took me this long to say 'I like this'. I worked in a homeless hostel in Limerick for four and a half years. There's a breed of a little helper inside me, without trying to be God. But I do it in a humble way.
CK: And in finance and property you survived the storm, Brian? Did being a former Clare hurler help?
CC: Things have improved. I always felt hurling got you in the door but after that it was up to yourself. When I was a minor I remember a mentor saying to me "don't mind the Leaving Cert, the GAA looks after its own". If you're depending on the GAA to look after you, get it out of your head. Look after your education first.
Ciaran Carey will be participating in the 50th anniversary Cuan Mhuire hill walk in Ballyheigue, Co Kerry next Saturday, June 25. For further details about the event, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org