Derrick Lynch reflects on ten years of sporting success for Clare at both county and club level.
As the decade draws to close, it is worth remembering just how much sporting success came to Clare over the last ten years.
The highlight was undoubtedly that unforgettable night under the lights in Croke Park when Pat Donnellan lifted Liam McCarthy amid a sea of gold streamers as Avicci’s ‘Wake Me Up’ blared across Jones Road. The scenes in the Fairgreen for the homecoming will live long in the memory too when Davy Fitzgerald told the recession to “go to hell”.
It is incredible to think that from 2010 to 2016, there was only one year where inter-county hurling silverware did not materialise for Clare. 2010 and 2011 brought Munster minor hurling glory, with 2012, 2013 and 2014 copper-fastening the Banner’s standing as the kingpins of the U-21 grade. 2015 would prove a barren year before Tony Kelly’s dramatic late double saw Clare clinch the 2016 National Hurling League crown. That victory proved to be the last major success of the decade for Clare, as two Munster final defeats to Cork and an all-Ireland semi-final replay loss to Galway was as close as Clare would come to more glory.
There was plenty success on the club front too, with Ballyea’s fairytale run in 2016 taking them all the way to Croke Park where Cuala proved the masters. Crusheen, Cratloe and Sixmilebridge all had Munster finals to reflect on in the decade too, while Wolfe Tones made the most of their time in the intermediate grade by winning the 2015 Munster title.
The decade was all about progress for the Banner’s footballers, with the appointment of Colm Collins in 2014 proving to be the most crucial moment of all. By the end of his first year, Clare had clawed their way out of Division Four and almost had silverware to show for it only for a narrow defeat to Tipperary in Croke Park in the league final. The next time Clare football descended on the capital would be a memorable one, with a dramatic victory over Kildare seeing the Banner crowned division three champions as the graph continued to climb. An All-Ireland quarter-final was the next milestone in 2016 while since then, consolidation in the second tier and consistent showings in the qualifiers have made it a solid decade for Clare football. There was also a Munster final appearance in 2012, where Cork proved too strong in the Gaelic Grounds. Collins was also a central figure in the Cratloe story this decade, as they shed their maiden tag in 2013 before going on to narrowly lose out to Dr Crokes in the provincial decider. The Kerry side also proved too strong for Miltown in the 2018 final where a blistering start would prove too much for the west Clare side to reel in.
It might have taken until the last year of the decade for the biggest story in camogie circles, but not too many Scariff-Ogonnelloe fans will mind having to wait. After some near misses in recent years, the east Clare outfit not only reached the summit in Clare for the first time, but went on to carry that form all the way through to Mount Munster. The journey is far from over as a date with defending All-Ireland champions Slaughneil awaits in the new year. It was a disappointing decade overall on the inter-county front, with a national League final appearance in 2014 being the on-field highlight. All-star awards for Chloe Morey and Máire McGrath were obvious high points too, but failure to make in-roads in the championship left a box un-ticked at senior level.
The Clare Ladies footballers were in transition mode this decade as the decision was taken to re-grade to the intermediate ranks following some disappointing results in the top tier. 2016 saw Clare make it to the All-Ireland final before just coming up short against Tipperary. On the club scene, there is no doubting that this decade belonged to Banner Ladies. Eight consecutive senior titles were accrued with provincial silverware also being put alongside as they swept all before them. That run was ended in 2019 as Kilmihil ended their wait for senior glory, but provincial glory eluded Kevin Callinan’s charges.
Clare soccer also had a decade to remember, with back to back Oscar Traynor titles under Donie Garrihy’s watch being the undoubted highlight. Defeat in 2014 final was avenged two years later before a memorable afternoon in Derry saw the Banner retain their title. Newmarket Celtic emerged as the kings of Clare this decade to dominate domestically, while their run to the last four of the FAI Junior Cup and subsequent entry to the FAI Senior Cup was a high point for the club.
The later part of the decade was one which Clare rugby fans will look back on as being hugely successful, and particularly all those rugby fans in Kilmihil. Three new Irish international stars emerged in the last few years, with Ethan Coughlan becoming the first Clare man since Anthony Foley to captain an Irish rugby side when he led out the U-18 side for their friendly with Italy earlier this year. Eimear Considine and Edel McMahon cemented their places as seasoned internationals with the Irish Women’s side, while Ailish Considine made history by winning the AFLW title with the Adelaide Crows.
Handball reached new heights of brilliance in Clare this decade with 2015 and 2018 being particular high points. 2015 saw Banner competitors bring home a total of nine titles from the World Championships in Calgary, while three years later that haul would increase to 12. There was more historic success to come before the end of the decade, as Diarmaid Nash and Colin Crehan secured their place in handball folklore by claiming back to back All-Ireland doubles titles. In doing so, they became the first Banner pairing to achieve the feat since the Kirby brothers in the latter part of the 1970’s.
There were numerous other moments of sporting brilliance by Clare sports stars this decade, with Derek O’Connor breaking records for fun on the point-to-point fields. His victory aboard Edwulf in the Irish Gold Cup was an outstanding achievement, while his wins at the Cheltenham Festival ensured his place as one of the top stars of his trade. On the athletics front, Clare athletes accumulated numerous national accolades but perhaps the greatest of all came when Seán Hehir was the first man across the line in the Dublin Marathon in 2013. He followed this up in 2015 with the Irish National Marathon title after being the first Irish finisher in the gruelling test, before going on to represent Ireland at the World Championships in 2017.
If the new decade brings the level of success outlined above, there will not be too many complaints. If it brings even more, all the better.