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Members of the Doonbeg squad after their 1972 county final win over Kilmihil, which was that start of the club’s second three-in-a-row from 1972 to ‘94.Photographs from Michael John Glynne Collection/Clare County Library

Still flying it after 50 years

This Saturday many Gaels that made the Doonbeg jersey famous will gather in Tubridy’s Bar to mark the
Golden Jubilee of the Flying Magpies’ three-in-a-row of senior championships from 1972 to ’74.
Joe Ó Muircheartaigh spoke to some of them ahead of the big night in the Long Village.

Tommy Comerford got a clock, while Michael Haugh got a coal scuttle – on it went because every one of the successful team got some present or memento as a personal thanks for their efforts during the year in the famous black and white jersey of the Doonbeg Magpies.
They were flying it at the time, and it was the ‘Bard of Bansha’, Pádraig Haugh’s way of saying thanks because far from being content to immortalise the achievements of the team in verse, he put his hand in his pocket to give them something extra to remember a year that brought senior championship and Cusack Cup honours to the team and the long village.
“It was unique and we’d never forget it, recalls Tommy Comerford. “Pádraig wasn’t by any means a wealthy man but was so generous and it meant an awful lot.”
“I think that was the time we had the GAA president Seamus Ó Riain at our presentation night in the Royal Marine Hotel in Kilkee,” says Michael Haugh.
That night, Ó Riain told 300 guests that “Doonbeg will give a lead in what a rural club can achieve in a rural community”. How they proved him true!
“Every year we got a big name for the dinner,” continues Haugh, “and I remember as the years went on we had the likes of Mick O’Dwyer, Jack O’Shea and Dermot Early come to us presenting the medals.”
The big names adorned these nights to remember because Doonbeg won so much, with the Magpies’ golden era kicking off in 1967. After losing the semi-final to Kilmurry Ibrickane in ‘66 they dominated from 1967 to ‘74, producing two three-in-a-row teams from 1967 to ‘69 and from 1972 to ‘74, while in between the only two championship games that they lost were by a point, to Kilrush Shamrocks in the 1970 county semi-final and by the same margin in the following year’s final against Shannon Gaels.
“There was a great bunch of lads there,” says Haugh, the winner of nine senior titles with Doonbeg from 1961 to ’83. “Football was part of our life, it was our DNA and losing wasn’t in our DNA – it was winning at all costs,” he adds.
“We had great men involved that time,” recalls Comerford. “Joe Hurley was the manager, while John O’Gorman and Pádraig Haugh were also there. They were huge men in the parish and real football men.
“With so many lads away we used to hire a car in Dublin to bring down six of the lads at the weekends,” he continues. “Senan Griffin, Paddy O’Grady, Eddie O’Neill, Johnny Tubridy and a few more. As soon as the match was over it was straight back to Dublin. That’s how we kept the team going,” he adds.
“A lot of it came from ourselves as players, but the leaders off the field were great too,” says Haugh. “John O’Gorman, a regimental man, and Joe Hurley, they didn’t take any nonsense. They instilled into us a respect for the parish. We kept ourselves in good shape.
“We were a very dedicated bunch and a lot did private training because with a lot of lads away in Shannon, Limerick and Dublin we trained away and you had no business coming back to Doonbeg unless you were in shape,” he adds.
“It was a game of you got the ball and got it up the field and marked your man tightly,” recalls Comerford. “It was a very tactical game – Senan Downes was full-back, Sean Whelan in one corner and I was in the other.
“No one would pass Senan. He was a tank and he’d burst out with the ball. Sean Whelan was the man to field the ball that came in – he was the man for the high balls and I was the sweeper. I read it.”

Jack Daly presenting Doonbeg captain Senan Downes with the Jack Daly Cup after the county final win over Kilmihil in 1972.

“High fielding was the thing that time,” says Haugh. “Our players loved to be able to catch a high ball. We specialised in high fielding and long kicking, trying to find a man.
“Pete Dillon was a high fielding man at midfield, with Bert only 5ft 10, but he had a great spring off the ground. He would jump as high as him. We also had six great backs. They were very tight marking backs that hit very hard, but fair. They were first to the ball at all times.
“The forwards were able to cut through. I remember one report described the forwards as having ‘cut and thrust’. I thought it was a great description.
“If you gave a back pass that time it was as if you were afraid to go through and were lacking a bit of courage. Nowadays, it’s all back passing. It’s very different.”
“For the first three-in-a-row, we didn’t have a field,” recalls Comerford. “It was ’73 when the Doonbeg pitch came on board. We used to train in Downes’ field across from the pub – we did a lot of training on the Sandhills where the golf course is now. The physical training got more intense when we got to the semi-final stage.
“When Senan Downes came home he would put us through the drills. He really put us through the ringer and as a result we were regarded as one of the fittest teams around. Michael Haugh, who was a great runner, brought in the speed,” he adds.
“I had a high level of fitness from athletics and I was running a mile in around 4:15,” recalls Haugh, “so I reckoned the lads should be able to run fast because to last an hour in a match you needed to be fit. They didn’t need much encouragement, they wanted that too,” he adds.
The result was that the Magpies swept all before them with their achievements from 1967 to 69 in winning both league and championship in all three seasons the making of a legendary group that provided the template for every other team that followed to try and emulate.
“At one stage in those years we went 52 games without losing a game in Clare,” recalls Comerford, “and outside Clare we were very competitive in Munster. One year we played East Kerry, a team that was an amalgamation with clubs like Dr Crokes, Rathmore and many others. We drew with them and were only beaten by a few points against them in the replay in Kerry. We could compete with the best of teams at that time.”
These achievements will be commemorated in Tommy Tubridy’s on Saturday night to mark 50 years since the second three-in-a-row was achieved, thanks to victory over Kilmihil in Miltown – a controversial success that is sure to be recalled more than once as the team comes together after half a century.
“We had a great rivalry with Kilmihil in those years,” says Comerford. “Kilmihil had a very similar style to us and some times lacked scoring power, like we did, and depended a lot on free-taking.
“1972 it was a really tough game and we were fortunate enough to beat them the second day. There was never much between us, a point or two a lot of the time.
“When we played Shanon Gaels and Kilrush, it was a much different type of game, a more open and expansive game, but against Kilmihil the scores were often very low as we both neutralised each other.”
Six frees from Senan Griffin Doonbeg led to a 0-6 to 0-4 win over Kilmihil in the 1972 replay played in dreadful conditions in Kilrush, but after they retained the title the following year with a 0-13 to 2-6 win over Shannon Gaels, it was the replayed final in 1974 that had everyone talking.
For Doonbeg the nucleus of the team that started out in ’67 was still there, but there was also an influx of youth also coming into the team thanks to the Clohanes team that won the county minor title in 1972.
In all, five of the team stepped up two years later – Tony Pender, John Clancy, Aidan Breen, Sean Cotter and Tommy Tubridy, who was the most prominent as he went on to win four more championships and accomplish the rare feat of winning senior titles in three different decades.
“It was hard to get onto that team,” he recalls. “I came up from what was called the Aberdeen Arms team, a kind of intermediate or junior team at that time. One night at training I was going well and told to go up in the forwards.
“That time we’d have 34 or 35 training. Playing in training was as tough as a match and I got a haymaker, but I didn’t go down. If I did go down I knew I’d never make the Doonbeg team.
“I got my place on the team after that for the championship quarter-final against Miltown in Kilrush and I scored a goal past Stephen Pender, a former Doonbeg player who was in goal for them,” he adds.
“Those training sessions in Doonbeg were intense,” recalls Haugh. “Before that there was a lot of individual training and then they got together at the weekends in Doonbeg.
“We’d be on the field the Saturdays before matches. I remember in one of them Paddy O’Grady broke his leg the night before the match in a workout before the match. They were tough,” he adds.
The games were too, with the 0-4 to 0-3 result in the 1974 replay being the talk of the county and well beyond as events went from the Hennessy Memorial Park pitch to the boardroom before Doonbeg finally kept their title.
With the sides deadlocked a 0-3 apiece, Noel Lorigan appealed for a penalty when he went down close to goal, but instead the referee Jim Linnane gave a free out.
Kilmihil screamed foul on the field; at the Clare Football Board and then the Clare County Board, before the result confirming that Doonbeg had won the game was eventually handed down on November 18th, over two months after the game had been played.
“It was a big dispute,” admits Comerford, who was a corner-back that day, “but it’s not for me to say who was right or wrong, but the decision went our way and on the day we won it.”
“It was controversial,” admits Haugh, “but I was quite close to it and as far as I could see he dived into the square.
“It was the edge of the square and he fell over into it. You can say, was he fouled outside the square or did he fall in, but I thought it was a dive.
The ball was kicked out – John Clancy got to me and I soloed up the field and gave it to Francis McGrath, who kicked the winning point. That’s the way it goes.”
That it went that way is why they’ll go straight from Saturday evening mass to Tubridy’s on Saturday night to mark that Golden Jubilee over some food and drink and plenty of stories.
“1974 was a great year for the club,” says Tubridy. “That was the year we won four competitions – the senior championship, the Under 21, the Aberdeen Arms and the Doonbeg Tournament.

“For me, it was great to be playing with these guys – I was looking up to them since I started playing under 14, when we’d go up to Bealaha and teachers Joe Hurley and Michael Ashe would train us.”
“They were great times,” says Comerford, “and what sticks out for me was the night we went up to Bealaha in Pádraig Haugh’s open-top Volkswagen. Pádraig was our poet, our mentor and now our driver.
“We’d won the county final and there were six or seven of us parading through the village and back to Bealaha. We had sods of turf that were lit as we were driving along.
“It was some sight in the car with the forks up and the flames flying. When we got to Bealaha there was a hay barn belonging to Kieran O’Mahony’s father and we nearly burned it.”
There’ll be no sods of turf this time, but maybe there’ll be a verse or two from the late Pádraig Haugh’s back catalogue.

About Joe O'Muircheartaigh

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