ONE iconic photograph on the top floor of the national GAA museum illustrates the scenes of sheer jubilation after the 1995 All-Ireland hurling final. Despite being placed in the middle of a line of GAA legends, it is still eye-catching even for non-GAA diehards who are interested in photography.
It captures part of Anthony Daly’s hand hoisting the Liam McCarthy Cup aloft in the air with O’Brien’s Tower in the background, the day after the Banner’s thrilling victory over Offaly.
Seán McMahon remembers standing behind the Clare captain when this photograph was being taken. He recalls Clare Champion photographer John Kelly also asked Anthony Daly to stand for a photograph on the way back from Shannon Airport to Ennis in an open-topped bus.
Speaking to GAA supporters as he conducted the GAA legends tour series in Croke Park recently, the Doora-Barefield clubman estimates 40,000 Clare supporters gave the team a rapturous welcome in Ennis.
“It was a brilliant time for everybody. There were street parties in Clare for a few days after the ’95 final. It brought a great sense of joy and a buzz of excitement to the whole county. They were great times,” he recalled.
Clare flew down from Dublin Airport in 1995 and came out the departure door of Shannon Airport escorted by a line of gardaí. Players and management went up to the top of the terminal building to display the Liam McCarthy Cup before boarding an open-top bus to Ennis. On the way, they were greeted by huge crowds in Newmarket and Clarecastle.
Asked what it feels like coming back into the dressing room after an All-Ireland final, McMahon said, “In certain respects, it is a bit of an anti-climax.
“There is such a high and pressure outside on the field. Then you are settling in the dressing room and becoming relaxed.
“While you are tired, there is a great sense of satisfaction as well, particularly after the 1997 All-Ireland final. This win really verified what we had done in 1995 after a year’s work.
“There was huge pressure going into that final because if we had lost the All-Ireland final, the Munster final would have been belittled.
“It was great to get 30 minutes with the group of players. The real excitement starts after that when you head away for the banquet,” he recalled.
In 1995, the Clare banquet was in the Berkeley Court, while in 1997 it was in the Alexander Hotel.
Asked what he liked most about his playing days, the former Clare captain admitted he loved being in a group of players.
“I consider the medals were great to have but they were the end result of 12 months of work. There was a great bunch of Clare players at the time and even now we would still be very friendly. I loved being in their company, training and going to matches.
“Playing in front of 40,000 in Pairc Uí Chaoimh or 80,000 in Croke Park are days we all dreamt of when growing up. Unfortunately, it all comes down to the result and whether the team wins, which determines if your year was a disaster or not. When you win the game, everything is perfect; when you lose, everything isn’t,” he said.
Asked if hurling has gone too professional, he acknowledged it seems a “bit of the fun” has gone out of the game.
He pointed out it is important for team spirit for players to enjoy a night out after championship and league games but, nowadays, most counties don’t allow their players to socialise until the end of the year.
“I am not saying that the fun isn’t in it. If you talk to any of the players playing a big match in Croke Park, this is the best time of their life. There does seem to be a difference between what was allowed 10 or 15 years ago and nowadays.
“Players are not getting paid and they still have to get up and do a day’s work the following day after a match. I am not in favour of pay for play, as long as players are getting properly looked after and are getting their expenses on time, tickets for matches and proper medical treatment after injuries.”
He recalled Clare went on a training week to Portugal in 2005, which was brilliant, even though the training was “savage”. He proposed it would be great if some money could be given to teams for a holiday or training fund at the end of the year.
While acknowledging that county boards get money from GAA headquarters, he wondered if it wouldn’t be too much to expect Limerick and Clare to get about €50,000 apiece from the €2.4 million generated from gate receipts at the All-Ireland semi-final.
He rates Brian Lohan as one of the greatest hurlers Clare has produced and one of the best full-backs because whether it was a training session or an All-Ireland final, he was always “going hell for leather”.
“Brian Lohan and Conor Clancy would be flaking at each other in training a week before the All-Ireland final. Ger Loughnane wouldn’t be blowing the whistle either. He had great presence. When he was at his prime, there was nearly a fear from opponents when he was around the square. It is a position you need calmness and a real good head. Any silly mistake can lead to a goal.
“In any big game, Brian Lohan was always fantastic. Clare U-21 full-back David McInerney is developing to be very like him. He has that calmness and assuredness around the square. Whenever Lohan caught a ball, beat a man and drove it down the field, the roof nearly came off the stand. Ollie Baker was brilliant and very underrated. Jamesie O’Connor was one of the top forwards in the game at the time.
“While people now think of Anthony Daly as a manager, he was a brilliant hurler. Every game Daly played well, he was that kind of a player. Daly was a great captain because he was able to relate to everyone.
“I don’t think Clare would have won without the team it had and wouldn’t have won without Loughnane. I think we were lucky the two came together. I don’t think you can give a player like Daly that big-game ability but he did have the ability to get the best out of us,” he recalled.
He believes the current crop of young players have the potential to be better than any senior team from the county.
“Colm Galvin and Tony Kelly are fantastic hurlers. Clare players have won Munster minor and U-21 All-Irelands and have played in an All-Ireland senior hurling semi-final. Patrick O’Connor is also a great prospect. Podge Collins has been brilliant and I think Conor McGrath is coming into form again. To have six or seven U-21 hurlers who can play senior for Clare for the next 10 years is almost unheard of. Normally you would be happy to have two or three U-21s graduating to play senior.
“It is very early days yet. Things can go against them. Are they going to get work locally? There are lots of question marks but Clare has never had a crop of players as good as the current bunch,” he added.