The John Horgan column: Clare v Limerick in '95 was a special Munster final

The John Horgan column: Clare v Limerick in '95 was a special Munster final
Jamesie O'Connor of Clare and Gary Kirby of Limerick battling it out in the 1995 Munster hurling final. Picture: INPHO/Tom Honan

IT will be so much different this year, a Munster hurling final being played in the depths of Winter.

It will certainly be a far cry from a Sunday in July when a shirt-sleeved audience would take over the old town of Thurles or the Ennis Road in Limerick or if your fancy leans more heavily on the bigger ball, Killarney on a morning of a football final takes some beating.

Here on Leeside we have many memories of Munster final days, the positive ones far out weighing the not so positive.

I suppose two days that will stand the test of time are the 1984 final and the 1990 final.

On both occasions Cork were triumphant and were subsequently crowned as All-Ireland champions a few months later.

The fact that Tipperary were downed on their own patch made those victories all the sweeter, the Centenary Year of 1984 being extra special.

The events of that day are well documented now so there’s no point in going over old ground again.

Yes, Cork and Tipp on a Munster final day in Thurles is, in many ways, has more appeal than the September All-Ireland final.

But Munster final Sundays are not all about Cork and Tipp and for the three other counties in the province they are just as special, maybe even more so because they don’t figure as prominently as the other two on the list of winners.

Twenty-five years ago last Sunday was one of those days when Cork and Tipp supporters were few and far between in the square in Thurles that morning.

The great home of hurling that day belonged to Clare and Limerick, their rivalry just as fierce as the blood and bandage and the blue and gold.

I found myself among the throngs that Sunday, a complimentary ticket arrived in the office a few days earlier and so off we went, up the Dublin Road with no traffic whatsoever.

In fact, until you reached the Horse and Jockey you would not have known that there was a game taking place.

But a few hours later we were glad we had made the decision to go.

Clare had lost the two previous finals of ’93 and ‘94, the national league final earlier and they were practically written off in most quarters.

The Banner County had not triumphed on a Munster final day since 1932, that was 63 years of excruciating pain for their long-suffering supporters.

In fact, the hurlers of the county had been upstaged by the footballers in 1992 when they stunned Kerry in the Munster final.

Clare captain Anthony Daly with the cup after beating Limerick in 1995. Picture: INPHO/Tom Honan
Clare captain Anthony Daly with the cup after beating Limerick in 1995. Picture: INPHO/Tom Honan

Limerick had thrown away the 1994 All-Ireland final to Offaly and would lose the 1996 final too to Wexford.

Clare, however, were to come in from the cold on that day 25 years ago, taking down a far more fancied team in one of the most emotional days Tom Semple’s field has ever witnessed.

Ger Loughnane had been elevated to team boss after being a selector with Len Gaynor who had done a lot of the spadework despite the continuation of their losing streak.

He brought in Tony Considine and Mike McNamara as selectors and everything changed, changed utterly.

Of course, Cork had opened the door for them in the Munster semi-final, conceding a late, late goal and one often wonders would we have heard anymore about those Clare boys if Cork hadn’t succumbed that day.

But, as events transpired, the course of history was changed that day in the Gaelic Grounds and Loughnane gave them the belief and the inner strength to go all the way.

It wasn’t the greatest of Munster finals, Clare turning the screw in the second-half and limiting Limerick to just four points.

Davy Fitzgerald blasted home a penalty, Ollie Baker was outstanding at midfield, PJ O’Connell posted some great points as did Jamesie O’Connor.

As a Corkman that day it would have made sense to exit early and let the Clare supporters celebrate the end of a famine that had lasted 63 years But we hung around, just to see the joy that the victory brought, to listen to the now immortal words of Anthony Daly, ‘’we are no longer the whipping boys of Munster hurling’.

The place was overcome with emotion and that’s why it’s always a privilege to attend on those days, to get caught up in what it means to ordinary folk.

In the immediate aftermath, one met Clare supporters who could not have given a damn about their All-Ireland prospects.

The Munster final that day was their Everest, their pain was removed and nothing else mattered.

Who knows who will be contest the Munster final next November and one way or the other it will be unique because of its timing.

There’s a better than 50/50 chance that Cork will be there and if they are it will be against Limerick, Clare or Tipperary.

Nothing will come easy there but it will be a Munster hurling final to remember, just like that final of 25 years ago last Sunday.

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