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The Clare team that clashed with Down in the National Football League in February 1993 in Cusack Park, Ennis. Clare team, back row, from left: Seamus Clancy, Aiden Moloney, Gerry Kelly, Pat Murray, Carl Walsh, Francis McInerney, Tom Morrissey, Gerry Killeen, Denis Russell. Front row, from left: Martin Daly, Joe Joe Rouine, John Enright, Noel Roche, Padraig Conway, Frankie Griffin.

Clare always up for Down challenge

Clare won’t be lacking in confidence going to Páirc Esler on Sunday as they shoot for Division 2 football for 2025, because history tells them the man from the Mournes are always beatable, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.

Hard to believe it’s 31 years ago now, but it’s worth reeling in the years to a memorable afternoon in February 1993 because when this Sunday comes it’s a reminder of what can be achieved when a group of footballers believe. More than that, when they are fully convinced.
The last Sunday of the month it was, and to say there was a fever over football because of the Clare team of the day is putting it very mildly. The Banner Ballers were the only show in town, and one of the biggest draws in the country.
Just a scan of some of the other big games that were on that same League Sunday proves this true. Mayo played Kerry in Crossmolina in a game that pitted old team-mates Jack O’Shea and Denis ‘Ogie’ Moran. A big deal, as was the meeting of All-Ireland champions Donegal and Cork in Ballybofey, while the Dubs against Galway was another standout.
Still, they didn’t hold a football to the meeting of Clare and Down in Cusack Park. In these days before GAA Beo on the yet-to-be-established TG4, radio was king, and if was the big match of the day on RTÉ Radio 1.
That meant Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh came to Cusack Park for the match commentary, and it was easy to figure out why the match was given such a star billing. The crowds that teamed around Ennis’ Causeway that day had to be seen to be believed.
“There was something almost surreal about this one,“ said Cliona Foley in The Irish Independent, “as Ennis hosted its largest ever National League crowd of up to 14,000. And for the football match!”
It was incredible – the biggest crowd of the day, will the attendance for the Donegal v Cork game being next best at around 7,500. Clare football had never seen anything like this before in the National League marking the occasion almost demanded a big performance.
They produced that too.
The afterglow of the Munster Final win of 1992 was still there for Clare, so welcoming a star-studded Down team to Cusack Park held no fears, despite the fact that 13 of the players that had won the 1991 All-Ireland, just 18 previously lined out for Pete McGrath’s side.
All the big names that had shaken up the football world in 1991 – Mickey Linden, DJ Kane, Ross Carr, Greg Blaney, James McCartan, Conor Deegan and Gary Mason. It mattered little to Clare on a stirring afternoon.

The Down team that lined out against Clare in the National Football League in February 1993 in Cusack Park

“Clare footballers record what must rank as one of their greatest ever wins,” said The Irish Press.
“Clare manager John Maughan looked star-struck afterwards,” noted The Irish Independent, “describing it as their biggest test since the memorable Munster final defeat of Kerry”.
The Clare Champion went so far as to call it a miracle — all because “nothing short of a miracle, it seemed, would see them survive and onslaught from a Down attack.
“However, a miracle was what the huge crowd witnessed,” the report added.
All because it was the manner in which the victory was achieved, something that left Down shellshocked when they trooped off the field and made their long journey home.
For Down, it wasn’t supposed to be like this as they landed in Ennis on top of Section D of the league, but left in joint-second with Meath behind new table toppers Clare.
The 11th minute of proceedings was a portent of things to come — Mickey Linden put Peter Withnell through on goal but after his shot rattled the woodwork Clare went the length of the field for Martin Daly to goal after great work in the build-up by Gerry Killeen and Tom Morrissey.
Down did rally to trail by 1-3 to 0-4 at the break, while the second half looked set up for them when Clare were reduced to 14 just before the break after Padraig Conway was involved in an off-the-ball incident with Micheál Magill.
Down had the wind, but Clare had the heart and after Withnell was again denied twice in the early minutes of the second half it just wasn’t going to be their day.
“Down pressed the self-destruct button,” noted The Irish Independent, “and Clare dug heroically deep in the crucial third quarter”.
“Clare footballers savoured one of their sweetest ever victories at Cusack Park,” said The Clare Champion, “They drew deep on their reserves of courage and stamina to outplay and outscore Down and clinch a vital brace of points”.
The points were secured thanks to four brilliant second-half points from frees by Gerry Killeen for a 1-8 to 0-7 victory that went a long way towards securing Division 1 status for the 1993/94 league.
And that it wasn’t an isolated success is proven by Clare’s overall record against Down – they have won five meetings between the sides while Down have just two wins, with two more games finishing level.
And, the recent meeting and victory for Clare was in Páirc Esler when they scored a 1-12 to 1-10 win, despite playing the last 20 minutes with only 14 men. Just like they did and more in that famous 1993 win before an adoring Clare public.

Clare 1993: Carl Walsh (St Joseph’s Milltown), Seamus Clancy (Corofin), Aiden Moloney (Kilmurry Ibrickane), Gerry Kelly (St Senan’s Kilkee), Frankie Griffin (Kilrush Shamrocks), Joe Joe Rouine (Ennistymon), John Enright (St Senan’s Kilkee), Tom Morrissey (Cooraclare), Pat Murray (St Joseph’s Milltown), Noel Roche (St Senan’s Kilkee), Francis McInerney (Doonbeg), Gerry Killeen (Doonbeg) (0-4), Padraig Conway (Doonbeg), Denis Russell (St Senan’s Kilkee) (0-1f), Martin Daly (Lissycasey) (1-3). Sub Brendan Rouine (Ennistymon) for Russell.

Down: Eamonn Connolly, Micheal Magill, Conor Deegan, Paul Higgins, John Kelly, Brian Burns, DJ Kane (0-1), Barry Breen, Eamon Burns, Ross Carr (0-3), Greg Blaney, Gary Mason (0-1), Mickey Lindon (0-1), Peter Withnell, Brendan Mason. Subs James McCartan for Brendan Mason, John Treanor for Magill.

Referee: Michael Curley (Galway)

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