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Jackie O’Gorman, Jim Cullinan and Con Woods at the 1976 team reunion in Durty Nelly's Bunratty Photograph by Arthur Ellis

Clare hurling in the ’70s

IT was an evening of nostalgia when the team of the 1970s that appeared in three successive National Hurling League finals gathered in Bunratty on Friday night last.

Addressing those assembled, then team manager Fr Harry Bohan noted “those years were significant for Clare hurling and certainly for ourselves; we did sow seeds”.

The games, the wins and the losses were all recalled and everyone took time to remember the role played by the late Tom Crowe from Clonlara.

Enda O'Connor and Johnny Callinan from the great Clare team of the '70s. Photograph by Arthur Ellis
Enda O’Connor and Johnny Callinan from the great Clare team of the ’70s. Photograph by Arthur Ellis

Asking all to stand for a minute’s silence as a mark of respect, John Callinan recalled playing in the Fitgibbon Cup with Tom. He said it was “an appropriate occasion to think of him and his family. He was a major character in our team. He was the man of the 1970s”.

Clare GAA chairman Joe Cooney recalled Crowe’s “historic and crucial goal against Kilkenny in the unforgettable league final”.

“Did a sliother ever take so long to get over the goal line?” he asked.

Fr Bohan recalled the deliberations with regard to picking the team for the ‘77 league final, when he said he “wasn’t going to Thurles without Tom Crowe”.

Cooney continued, “I am delighted to celebrate the remarkable contribution of the team of the 1970s. This team brought a sense of excitement and pride to the entire county.

Hurling people enjoyed your skill and determination but, most of all, your love of hurling, the greatest game in the world. Wherever Clare people of my generation gather, the conversation almost always includes memories of the games from this era.

“Supporters, including myself, have hundreds of stories to tell. Clare people in their thousands flocked to the games, particularly to Thurles. Return journeys often took hours longer than they should have, as cars stopped at The Ragg, Youngs, the Five Alley and all around the county. This was a team of strong individuals, each with their own distinct personalities. They became and remain legends within the hurling community.”

 Seamus Durack, Fr Harry Bohan, Pat O’Connor and Colm Flynn at the reunion. Photograph by Arthur Ellis
Seamus Durack, Fr Harry Bohan, Pat O’Connor and Colm Flynn at the reunion. Photograph by Arthur Ellis

The county chairman continued, “Their greatest achievement was that Clare could compete with and beat the top hurling counties. They were most unlucky not to achieve the ultimate of Munster and All-Ireland success. The knock-out championship of the time suited the top teams with their established sides. Clare would have benefitted from the backdoor system that operates today. These players have contributed greatly to the development of all aspects of hurling in Clare. As well as their contribution to the county team, each also contributed hugely to their clubs. On occasions, county friendships were tested in club competitions. These players served clubs not just as players but as coaches, trainers and club officers. As role models for club members, they provided the leadership clubs needed. Many went on to manage successful club and county teams.

“The team provides a strong link with the exciting Clare teams of today. One of the team, Ger Loughnane, led the county on its amazing journey in 1995. Ger’s experience with the team of the ’70s greatly assisted him in the ’90s,” according to Cooney, who concluded by thanking Seamus Durack, John Callinan and Enda O’Connor for organising the event.
Recalling the bond that developed between the team and the supporters, Seamus Durack introduced Bernie Keating from Kilbaha whose family “travelled the length and breadth of the country to follow Clare in the 1970s”.

Durack recalled attending the funeral of Bernie’s late father in Kilbaha, when one of the gifts presented was a Clare jersey.

Bernie Keating said he was “honoured to be here in the presence of a marvellous group of men. I remember being at league games in Tulla and standing on a mineral container to watch ye play. I would love to see ye visit Kilbaha during the summer where there is a great love for the game of hurling”.

Urging all present to accept the offer to travel west, Colum Flynn, trainer of the team, talked about the love for the GAA that members of the Bonfil family from the parish of Cross and Kilbaha have. “After every game, even when I was with Galway, they would be outside Croke Park to offer their support, win lose or draw.”

Fr Bohan picked up on this. “The GAA is in serious danger at the moment, it is so disconnected from the clubs and going further and further away. There will be no county teams if the clubs are not fostered. We connected well with the clubs. We trained as well as any other team and the team evolved. I had no selector when I got the team and we got to the Munster final in our first year. We didn’t have anything like the backrooms that are there now.”

By Seamus Hayes, sports editor

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