IN his superb memoir Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby detailed the personal strains and triumphs of 20 odd years following a top-flight London soccer club. The book has become regarded as the ultimate account of fandom and while its author may know little of Clare hurling, Hornby would surely empathise with Fr Enda Glynn’s passion for it. The county’s hardcore support isn’t particularly big, as has been proven on occasions like the Clare-Tipperary game this summer but there are people like Fr Glynn who try to get the most obscure of fixtures and who have taken particular delight in this year’s U-21 odyssey.
Clare-Antrim league games rarely quicken the pulse and Banner supporters don’t leave the county in big numbers for games in Belfast but it’s the type of occasion that Fr Glynn would make it his business to get to.
“I remember around 1980 going to Tubber to collect Pat O’Connor after saying two masses in Gort. I collected him and we drove to Shannon, then flew to Belfast. I was watching and Pat was playing. I remember Tommy Skehan scoring a point from about 100 yards the same day. We came back to Shannon then and I said seven o’clock mass in Gort,” he says.
Match days generally coincide with busy working days for men of the cloth and he also had to take to the skies for the last game in the controversy-ridden year of 1998.
“I went by helicopter to the third game against Offaly in ’98 in Thurles. The sacristan in Carron, Mrs Cross, who was a wonderful woman, had died and I was doing a wedding that evening in Noughaval (near Kilfenora) at half five that evening. A friend arranged it. After the funeral we went to Thurles, I was back for the wedding at half five and I did two more masses that evening.”
A few thousand supporters were in Fraher Field to see Ciarán O’Doherty raising the cup and for those who had shared in the disappointment of 12 final defeats, it was particularly special.
Fr Enda was at all but one of the finals and remembers the strong sides of the ’70s.
“I was at them all except for the ’72 one, I was only after being ordained and you had to get permission to leave your parish. I remember the ’74 one. It was a wet night in Thurles and there were great expectations but we were beaten by Waterford. Christy Ryan was on that team, Ger Ward, Seán Stack, Ger Loughnane, Seán Hehir, Colm Honan, John Callinan and Enda O’Connor.
“An awful lot went on to play senior. I remember ’76, Johnny Callinan was picking up Vinny Daly from Wicklow and he was late arriving. He was put on after about 10 or 15 minutes. Clare were beaten very narrowly. Those teams of ’72 and ’74 went on to form the basis of the senior team that did well in the ‘70s and won two national leagues.”
Very rarely, if ever, has a provincial title been decided in circumstances as bizarre as last year’s Munster U-21 final and for Fr Glynn, it was one of the real lows.
“It was an absolute tragedy. If you look at the last match, the Galway goalkeeper took every puck-out in the first half from outside the square. I thought that Clare team were presented very well, they played a lovely style of hurling. They weren’t as physically strong as Tipperary but they played a great brand of hurling.”
Perhaps borne out of the events of last summer, this U-21 side has generated a huge level of interest from hurling people around the county. It’s something Fr Enda is glad to see and reminds him of years gone by.
“That team in ’77 and ’78 had great support. I remember being down in Cork and they lost by seven or eight points. The next day, they were playing Offaly in Birr and there were twice as many Clare supporters there as Offaly. They were very loyal. It was just a tragedy they didn’t win a Munster final. They had wonderful support. It evaporated unfortunately but it was back fleetingly from ‘95 to ‘97. The true supporters were in Dungarvan and in Thurles the last day. It was nice to see Clare outnumbering Galway three to one.”
Lahinch Golf Club is another of his passions. He was the author of A Century of Golf at Lahinch and is now writing a second book about the cups and trophies of the club. Until this year, he had never missed the South of Ireland competition at the club but it clashed with the Munster final in Waterford. He has also represented Ireland at bridge.
“I’ve a feel for the cards and it comes easily. I’ve a good memory and that’s very important for the bridge. There are a lot of clubs in Clare, it’s quite strong,” he says.
One of his guiding principles at matches is to not berate players who are doing their best.
“People are far too critical. The best hurlers are always on the ditch. I’ve gone to a lot of matches but I’d never ever criticise a Clare player at one because behind me could be his father, mother, brother or sister. I’d never do it. All of them are doing their best, no-one’s trying to play badly.”
He is full of praise for the side that have reached the All-Ireland final and feels there is strength throughout the team.
“Nicky O’Connell scored three magnificent long-range points from frees against Waterford in the first half. Eamon Glynn was excellent that day and Ciarán O’Doherty has been excellent. The Donovans have great heart and the team is very well balanced. It’s unheard of for a man to score 4-7 and not win but the reason for it was that Clare were better balanced all over the field. What struck me this year, unlike other Clare teams, was that they could get their scores easier and that’s a very good sign.”
The nucleus of a successful senior outfit is there, he feels.
“I think the coming senior team should be built on this. Eleven or 12 of that team should go on to play senior for the county. There’s never been a forward like Darach Honan in Clare in my lifetime and I think the management used him very well,” he concludes.