ALTHOUGH Seamus O’Reilly’s match seating arrangements are somewhat unusual, his peculiar perch is no longer viewed as irregular. Stop into Cusack Park on match day and invariably you will spot a relaxed O’Reilly reclining on his seat keeping an eye on things.
His seat is not located in the stadium stand though. Rather, a few short inches from the sideline. Come league or championship, be it club or county, O’Reilly rarely stirs from his roost. Nor is he asked to, such is his longevity in the one spot. He has been there so long that hurlers, footballers and linesman conspire never to take or give a line ball from too close to the Lisheen man, lest he and his camera have to move.
Occasionally though, O’Reilly has found that not all sidelines are as welcoming. Six years ago, he was lounging on the Walsh Park line documenting Kilmaley’s Munster club game against Mount Sion. The Waterford club’s manager, Jim Greene, had the temerity to obscure O’Reilly’s view at one stage before he was firmly asked by the County Express man to move on. Greene gave O’Reilly the deaf ear. O’Reilly increased the volume. Greene whirled around and the two exchanged a few hair-raising comments before the game reeled in the home manager’s attention, leaving O’Reilly immovably seated.
One of two people involved in the establishment of the County Express in 1979, O’Reilly has been a constant at thousands of Clare GAA matches since. On Friday week, many of his photographs and match reports will be found between the covers of Clare GAA – The Club Scene; 1887 to 2010.
The idea dawned on him on Good Friday, five years ago.
“I hadn’t much else to do,” is how he explains his initial decision to compile the book.
Another motivation is O’Reilly’s interest in Clare GAA history, stretching back to the latter part of the 1800s.
“There were county finals played in Flannagan’s field in Newmarket, the Mill Field in Broadford and in Thynne’s field, which appears to be in between Ennistymon and Lahinch. I had a fascination as to where these places were and also the 1896 county football final was played in a place called Lisheen (Ballynacally), which is my home place. It was on the main road, a place called Eddie Murphy’s field,” he noted.
In hunting down information on the first county football final, which was won by Newmarket in 1887, O’Reilly unearthed details of a less than committed approach from Cratloe, who were beaten in the final.
“The only match report was in a paper in Limerick. It appears that Cratloe were missing a lot of players. They went off to a fair by all accounts. Newmarket won by something like 1-15 to 0-0,” he said.
“The second county final was Newmarket again against Kilmacduane from Cooraclare. That was very controversial. In the semi-final there was attacks on players but Newmarket won the double,” O’Reilly added.
In both 1887 and 1888, Newmarket represented Clare in the Munster championship, where they were opposed by Commercials from Limerick.
Commercials included William Gunning from Broadford in their team. He refereed the first Clare county hurling final in the Mill Field in 1887. Newmarket beat Commercials the first time but lost a year later, when they sought a hand from beaten finalists Kilmacduane (Cooraclare).
“I think they wrote a letter to Cooraclare to get one of their players. But Commercials found out and they were thrown out of the championship,” O’Reilly recounted.
In 1888, Ogonnelloe won their only county hurling title but their Munster championship experience was less than smooth.
“They were due to play Liberties in the first game but Liberties didn’t turn up. The final was against Tower Street in Cork and it was due to be played in a place called Croom Castle. But at the Munster final, Liberties staged a protest on the field and the Munster final was never played,” O’Reilly said.
“Tower Street then offered to play Ogonnelloe in Cork. There was a train that time from Killaloe to near enough the venue. But because of the US invasion, when the top Gaelic players and athletes went to America, the Munster championship of 1888 was never played. So Ogonnelloe never got to represent Clare,” he revealed.
Clubs who made inroads in the early part of the 1900s include Ennis Dals, Ennistymon Emeralds and Kilrush, with O’Reilly describing Kilrush and Ennis Dals as “bitter rivals”, while Ennis man Joe Nono was a noted footballer, athlete and cricketer, who also fought in World War 1.
Another intriguing character was Con Carney from Carahan, who served as county secretary, refereed a county hurling final, captained Carahan to victory in 1900 and also supplied a county final venue.
“It was very disorganised,” O’Reilly says of the Clare GAA set-up more than 100 years ago. “For example, in 1890 there was only four teams in the hurling and a team called Daniel O’Connell’s – Feakle gave a walkover to Faugh’s, the Ennis team. Faugh’s won the double that year. When they represented Clare they got a walkover against Tipperary in the Market’s Field and then they gave a walkover to the Kerry team,” he said.
Seventeen years later, the county football final spilled into a court sitting in Kilrush.
“The 1917 final, according to the record books, was Cooraclare v Kilkee. Around that time there was fierce bitterness towards Cooraclare. They had played three or four games in the Redmond Cup. Fellas came off horses with stirrups and they laid into the opposition; supporters from one of the sides but it was never explained which. There was a fair the following week in Kilrush, where it continued on and it finished in a court case, where the judge gave out about the carry-on of the supporters. Both teams were subsequently suspended for a couple of years,” O’Reilly discovered.
The Civil War resulted in two county boards operating in Clare for a couple of years.
“Clare was the only county that split GAA wise during the Civil War. You had two boards. I’ve read where it happened in Limerick but it didn’t happen on political grounds. In Clare it was clearly on political grounds,” O’Reilly maintained, pointing out that the Independent County Board received scant coverage in The Clare Champion.
“I read where the authorities censored the news coverage. I’ve a feeling that Canon Hamilton might have been to the fore, although he was a great man as it turned out. After about two years, when the Independent board began to become weak, players transferred back and he never objected, which was great because there was the potential for division,” O’Reilly believes.
The book is laden with fascinating anecdotes and photographs, one of which includes the 1919 county championship-winning Coolmeen team.
“The only county final that was ever won by a team getting a lower score was the 1919 county final, which was played in 1922. It involved Kilrush and Coolmeen. Willie ‘Ball’ McNamara was playing for Kilrush at the time. Tommy Haugh’s father, Siney was the Coolmeen captain. With the game very near the end, Kilrush were 0-9 to 0-7 up and an altercation occurred. One of the Coolmeen fellas got his ribs broken. The referee, who was from Miltown, had a chat and sent off a Kilrush player but Kilrush refused to come back on the field. Subsequently, in a board meeting, Coolmeen won the county final. It’s the only time it has happened,” O’Reilly said.
He has also found out that some Clare GAA clubs are much older than they think.
“For example, Sixmilebridge have a much older history than they believe they have. I’m coming across the ’Bridge playing football in the 1880s. The general feeling in the ’Bridge is that the club was founded in 1904 or 1905.”
He found himself holding his sides at some old match reports.
“There’s good descriptions of the early games in the Celtic Times about crowds, ‘big strong fellas getting bowled over, women getting wicked and weakness in the crowd’. The sad thing about it is they often forget to mention who got the scores,” he laughed.
As for himself, O’Reilly played hurling for Lisheen and Ennis CBS and a bit of football for Clondegad. He played in two minor league hurling finals in the early ’70s and preferred the same ball game.
“Funny enough, I found I had very little confidence playing football. Why, I don’t know because I had a big pair of hands. Soccer I had a go at and it would never worry me. Hurling, I had no great ability but would never be overawed,” he stated.
As of yet, O’Reilly has not been overawed sufficiently to consider relocating his seat from Cusack Park or any number of Clare GAA sidelines.
His 900-page book, Clare GAA – The Club Scene; 1887 to 2010, will be launched in the Auburn Lodge on Friday, December 17 at 7.30pm. The book is available in several outlets around the county.
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