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Just 56 years waiting

NEXT week will be the first time in 56 years that a football team from Clare will take to the field for an All-Ireland final at minor, U-21 or senior level.
In September 1953, a promising Clare minor team imploded when they faced Mayo in Croke Park, going down by 2-11 to 1-6 and it’s not a fond memory for Michael Garry who was in goal.
The week after Kilmurry-Ibrickane stunned Portlaoise, he appealed to the All-Ireland finalists to give it everything, through the letter page of The Clare Champion.
“I was part of the Clare minor team beaten by Mayo in the 1953 All-Ireland final and I’m still hurting from that experience. I plead with all the Kilmurry-Ibrickane players to give it their absolute best shot so that they can live happily with the memory for the rest of their lives,” he wrote.
Michael now lives in Australia but grew up in Ennis and while he said the ’53 final was disappointing, the journey there was great. “The Cork Examiner, after what we’d done in getting to the final, reckoned we were the best team ever to leave Munster. We’d beaten Cork in the Munster final by 0-7 to 0-2 and we won the All-Ireland semi-final by 1-10 to 0-2 (against Louth). The way we played then was unbelievable. In some ways, I think we were ahead of our time.”
The Clare Champion preview, from September 26, 1953, said that two good teams had reached the decider. “Mayo beat, in the semi-final, an Armagh team that was placed in the class of top ranking teams by popular vote. Clare, therefore, has a force to reckon with on the sod where they so valiantly and competently dealt with Louth in the other semi-final.”
Travelling from the county to the capital took longer than it will take supporters next Wednesday. “A special excursion train will leave Kilrush at 4.15am and Kilkee at 4.30am on Sunday morning to connect with the 6.40am special which will arrive in Kingsbridge at 11.05am.”
One of Michael’s memories of the final was of having to come out of goal, after a penalty was awarded to Mayo.
“Mayo got a penalty in the second half and captain Tommy Mangan relieved me of my position. There was no goal scored against me in the Munster final or the All-Ireland semi-final and I’d won a county senior championship in 1952 so I felt I was more than qualified to face it. Tommy was a great player and a great man but he wanted to play everywhere that day.”
According to The ’Champion’s report on the final, the game was very one-sided and the scoreline could have been worse for the young Banner side.
“What was the cause of this complete downfall after such a fine performance against Louth in the semi final? It was due simply to being outclassed in every phase of the game. Mayo were faster to the ball, superior in fielding, better able to hold the ball and had other superiorities that go to the winning of the national crown.
“Had they been more accurate in marksmanship, Clare would have been beaten by a cricket score and as it was the losers may consider themselves lucky to have escaped with the difference of one goal and five points.”
While there may have been special trains and an exodus from some parts of Clare for the final, Michael felt the level of support could have been greater.
“Kerry were playing Armagh in the senior final that day so there was a huge crowd there but we didn’t have great support really. There wasn’t as much about it as there would have been for a minor hurling team.”
Then, as now, Ireland’s economy was on its knees and two years later, Michael left for Australia. He settled outside Melbourne and says he has been very happy there. “It was very bad in Ireland then. People were leaving for the US, the UK and, to a lesser extent, Australia. I made the right decision and I’ve loved it since the day I came.”
But he’s stayed in touch with Clare and with the GAA scene in the county and is delighted with Kilmurry-Ibrickane’s march to Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day.
“Clare football needed it and people should be very, very proud of them. It’s a fairly small area that they’re drawing from and there’s great credit due to them.”
He’ll be tuned into Clare Fm on St Patrick’s Day and will be reading the local coverage online the following day in The ’Champion. He saw Clare’s All-Ireland victories in the ’90s from Australia, but has enjoyed his trips home. “I’ve been back three times and I love it. Every time I get back, I feel like I never left at all and going again is very hard. Three years ago, I thought of staying. I went back for five weeks, from early June to mid-July and in all that time, it rained all but two days. I decided I couldn’t stay and my children are in Australia too.”

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