For Killimer it’s a huge day and a huge opportunity as they bid to go where no team from the parish has gone before and claim a Junior A title — a success they have been striving for over a long number of years and different generations writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh
There’s always an early start on Sundays back Knockerra and Killimer way — for some like Pat Culligan it’s the same every day as there are cows to milk, cattle to feed and there’s mass to go to, never mind picking up the Sunday papers for a glance.
This Sunday gone though, there was something extra for the people of Killimer and Knockerra, especially the followers of the green and gold as they were out in force to ensure that as much of it as possible was visible and proudly flying around the parish.
Sunday, October 22, was Mission Sunday, but the big mission for the likes of Pat Culligan, Jimmy King, and many more diehards was meeting up with club chairman Joe Griffin and others to drape the place with the colors.
“We’re excited and it’s huge for us,” said Jimmy King. “There was a great core of support going to every game. The people are great to come out and they come from far away. I saw people in Clarecastle for the semi-final that I didn’t see since last year’s final.
“Now that we’re back in a final the bunting is flying in Knockerra and Killimer and it’s lovely to see. It gives people a great lift. Getting to the final last year gave people a great lift and it’s the same this year, it’s even bigger for us.
When you have a small area, everyone buys into it. This is our senior team. They are all talking about it. Knockerra/Killimer is a very small area— Kilrush is to the west and Shannon Gaels to the east of us. They have a bigger pick, but we love our football,” he adds.
Jimmy has been involved with Killimer for over 50 years — you name a job in the club and he’s done it at some stage. Player, chairman, selector, coach, PRO — the list goes on since it all started way back when he was a sub on the team that contested the 1971 county junior final when only 16.
“I love it,” he says. “I’m from the last house in the parish of Kilmurry McMahon, but a Killimer man for football because I went to school in Knockerra and fell in with the club then and have been with them since.”
Pat Culligan played right-half-back that day against Lissycasey in 1971, while on Saturday he’ll be with all the other Killimer supporters as they make their way to Kilmihil in the hope of finally seeing their team reach the promised land of a Junior A title.
They’ve been here before on four occasions, but each time they’ve come up short, but when the numbers are there Killimer have always come back for more in the hope of finally making the breakthrough and scoring their biggest victory since the county senior title came to the parish in 1896.
“We were close in ’51,” recalls Pat Culligan, “as the final that year against Ballykett went to a replay before they won well. Some of that Ballykett team played for Kilrush in the senior county final that year.
“I had two uncles on that Killimer team,” continues Pat, “one was a local farmer, while the other was a priest who emigrated, while some others on the team came to the end of their time and that team came to an end,” he adds.
It wasn’t until the team that Pat himself was a part of in the late 1960s and early ’70 that Killimer came again when in one of the most successful periods in the club they were serial contenders and played senior championship when joining forces with O’Curry’s for a few years.
“In ’65 when the club reformed there were stalwarts that made it happen,” remembers Jimmy. “Lads like Senan O’Driscoll, who was a great stalwart, Marty Madigan who has the pub in Doonbeg was another as were Brendan Lorigan and Michael Carrig, who were instrumental in getting the club going.
“In those county final years of 1969 and ’71 there were lads like Stephen Grogan and Timmy Power who were heavily involved and there was a good team there with Pat Fitzpatrick, Pat Upton, and many more,” he adds.
“From 1965 onwards the club has always been here,” says Pat. “When we couldn’t field a junior team players from the club fell in with Shannon Gaels, but at the same time we were very much involved in underage and it continued the whole time,” he adds.
“The year before we joined with Shannon Gaels we played the first game with 16 players,” remembers Jimmy. “The next day out because of injuries we only had 14 and that finished us, so we joined with the Gaels as they had great people like Paudie Neylon, but the aim was that we’d be back on our own when we had the numbers.”
Killimer players that threw in their lot with the Gaels included Bryan Cunningham, Francis Cleary, Brendan Cleary, John Paul Cooper, Sean Troy, Ruairi Norrby and Bryan Cunningham, while Brendan Crowley became a Kilrush Shamrocks man.
Lack of numbers meant there was a five-year hiatus from 2007 to 2012 when Killimer were without a team at junior level — this was less than a decade after a landmark year in the club when Junior B honours came to the club, while the McNamara Cup final played famously played between two Killimer teams.
“Killimer’s 56-year wait is over,” screamed The Clare Champion headline after that Junior B Championship win over Ennistymon. “There were great scenes of celebration at Quilty on Saturday evening as Killimer captured the title with a merited victory.
“The win came 56 years after the West Clare side last won a junior championship title in 1943 and it completed a great junior double as the McNamara Cup is already on the sideboard.
“Killimer had two teams in the competition this year and both qualified for the final which is to be played at their own venue,” the report added.
“It was huge for us that year because we also brought out our club history,” recalls Jimmy.
“The league final was something else because it was played below at the field. There was a fierce crowd there and great excitement,” he adds.
“A Day of Celebration for Killimer GAA,” said the headline this time as the A side edged out the B side by 1-14 to 2-9 in what was remembered as “a big turnout of all their supporters for what proved to be a lively contest”.
The common denominator between then and now is that Brendan Crowley, who starred in both the championship and league finals, is now the manager of the team as Killimer attempt to achieve that coveted Junior A crown and step up to the intermediate ranks.
Crowley came back as a player first and was central to the last Junior B title when leading the attack from centre-forward when they scored a dominant 0-22 to 1-5 win over St Breckan’s in the 2017 county final win in Miltown.
“Since then we have been trying to go one step better and win that Junior A,” says Jimmy, “and Brendan Crowley has put his heart and soul is in it. We were beaten by the gallant men of Liscannor last year, so hopefully this year,” he adds.
“Last year was a disaster of a day for football with the weather, especially when you have a bunch of young lads on your team,” recalls Pat.
“When I saw them play in the semi-final against Kilmurry Ibrickane I was amazed. They were brilliant, but the day of the final didn’t suit them.
“It was the same type of day when we played a semi-final in Miltown in 1978 and we were beaten by a point by Corofin. It was a bad day and on days like that young lads mightn’t have the strength and cuteness you need.”
It will be Killimer’s fifth final in the grade, as they finally bid to make up for those defeats to Ballykett (1951), Clondegad (1969), Lissycasey (1971) and Liscannor (2022).
They’ll be trying to do that with their mix of youth and experience, as players like Liam Culligan, Mikey Kelleher and Odran Cunningham who played in Clare’s Munster U-20 game against Kerry that went to extra-time this year sharing a pitch with the likes of David Moran who was starring at underage with Clare and Killimer before they were born.
“David is back with us this year after he was playing with the Garda club in Dublin,” reveals Jimmy. “He’s 42 and a big player for us. That experience and all the young lads who are a year older and a year wiser is a big help.
“To the big clubs like Éire Óg or Kilmurry Ibrickane, a Junior A title mightn’t mean much, but it would mean everything to us.”
The first reference to Gaelic football in Killimer came in 1882, two years before Michael Cusack founded the GAA, when Gaels from the parish played a game at an athletic meeting in Kilrush.
They’ve been at this football thing that long — no wonder it would mean everything. Until Saturday comes.