The John Horgan column: The day I was a Clare football supporter

The John Horgan column: The day I was a Clare football supporter
19 July 1992; Eamonn Breen, Kerry, in action against Colm Clancy, Clare. Clare v Kerry 92, Munster Football Final, Gaelic Grounds, Limerick. Picture credit; Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

THE beauty of being involved in sport is that you get to savour days that you will remember all your life.

Thankfully, when you are a resident of Leeside there have been some great days down the years, advancing years now.

As a lifelong Manchester United follower, the great days have been in plentiful supply too even if the wait extended to 26 years before the league title was regained again.

However, the passing over a week ago now of Clare’s Noel Walsh brought back memories of a day 28 years ago when the Banner County stunned the GAA world by defeating Kerry in the Munster SFC final at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick.

There was no great reason for any Cork folk to be present on the Ennis Road that day and there was very little interest in the game in the county after Kerry had prevailed in the semi-final.

I managed to find myself travelling through Mallow, Buttevant and Charleville that day in the company of that great Cork Examiner GAA scribe Michael Ellard and little did we know what was going to unfold in the hours ahead.

For donkeys years, Munster football final day was the sole preserve of Cork and Kerry, Cork followers making the pilgrimage to Killarney every second year.

Both counties were seeded, kept apart each year with the other three counties just lambs to the slaughter more often than not.

And that’s where the late Noel Walsh came on board.

He was a champion of many causes, he was relentless in his pursuit of the GAA in getting the association to open the doors of Croke Park to other codes.

He fought a losing battle to retain the once great Railway Cup competition but foremost in his pursuits was trying to change the format of the Munster SFC and get the powers that be to make it into an open draw.

He wanted to give his own county, Limerick and Waterford an opportunity to maybe get into a final and take their chances against the big two of the province.

For some time it proved to be a fruitless battle but as former GAA president Sean Kelly uttered back then, "he was like a dog with a bone." 

He eventually succeeded and in 1990 he eventually succeeded, the Munster Council voting 8-7 to open up the SFC draw.

Cork and Kerry put up arguments against it but the deed was done, there was going to be no guarantee anymore of a Cork, Kerry final.

And within a year that was the case, Kerry defeating Cork in the semi-final and Limerick coming through the other side of the draw.

Kerry won the final against the Shannonsiders by just three points and were fortunate enough to do so.

But a year later it was a different story, Cork were again dispatched by Kerry and Clare came out on the other side.

So it was a Kerry-Clare final with nobody giving the Bannermen the slightest chance.

19 July 1992; The Clare team. Munster Football Final, Clare v Kerry, Gaelic Grounds, Limerick. Picture credit; Ray McManus
19 July 1992; The Clare team. Munster Football Final, Clare v Kerry, Gaelic Grounds, Limerick. Picture credit; Ray McManus

Clare’s history against Kerry in Munster was not good, losing in 1979 by 36 points. But this time it was different, Clare had brought in Mayo star John Maughan as team boss and he transformed the entire landscape in the county.

At half-time in the final Clare were very much in the game, leading by a point but those of us present in the ground expected the inevitable thereafter.

But it never transpired, Clare’s indomitable spirit carrying the day by four points, leading Marty Morrissey to utter the now immortal words, 'there won’t be a cow milked in Clare for a week', a phrase that has endured to this day.

One had to be present that Sunday to understand the outpouring of emotion that followed and it’s something that stands out for me as a moment in time that will endure to the grave.

Of course, I was thrilled, Cork’s fiercest foe had been stunned by a rank outsider and one just got caught up in the joy and emotion of the day.

19 July 1992; Jack O'Shea, Kerry. Clare v Kerry 92, Munster Football Final, Gaelic Grounds, Limerick. Picture credit; Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
19 July 1992; Jack O'Shea, Kerry. Clare v Kerry 92, Munster Football Final, Gaelic Grounds, Limerick. Picture credit; Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

The proudest man in Limerick that day was Noel Walsh. He had pioneered the change that had brought about this historic achievement.

It was remarkable, his persistence had brought about what had just unfolded before our eyes.

And it was only right and fitting that he was a selector alongside Maughan that day.

Some of the Clare players are now immortalised in the Banner county, men like Francis McInerney, Martin Daly, remember him, Noel Roche, Gerry Killeen and so on.

It was a privilege to be among them on that Sunday afternoon in 1992.

Croke Park was opened up years later, again Walsh being a leader in bringing that change about The headline on the Irish Examiner on the Saturday following his passing read “Farewell to a driver of change and fairness’’.

An apt description of a great GAA man who led the way for so much.

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