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The Clonlara team and supporters celebrate following their win over Dromin-Athlacca in the 2007 Munster Intermediate Final at Cusack Park. Photograph by John Kelly

The Gullys’ Clonlara journey

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The last time Clonlara were in a Munster final Jim Gully was the manager — 16 years on from the club’s provincial victory at intermediate level comes the opportunity of winning a senior title with the family connection being Séimí, who mans the gap in goal, writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.

As dusk fell over Clonlara on a famous evening 15 years ago Jim Gully remembers everything about the day as if it was yesterday. The build-up; the team marching behind the Tulla band with Paul Collins at the head of affairs; the game; the win and Paul’s speech that announced the Canon Hamilton Trophy’s return to the village that gave the GAA the redoubtable cleric.
Meanwhile, Jim’s son Séimí can only see the fires burning brightly on the hills as the Clonlara cavalcade made its way back to the village as a senior championship title was won for the first time in 89 years.
It’s October 2008 and Clonlara have never had it so good. Jim was manager and his young team had just completed a memorable back-to-back county title success — intermediate champions in 2007, but no in Jim’s own words ‘the real deal’ as senior kingpins.
Séimí is the current Clonlara goalkeeper and was only four in 2008, but wherever his father brought the team that year, and the year before that at intermediate, he was there. Totally immersed; living it; hurling it — even if he can’t remember it 15 years on.
“He was very young,” remembers Jim, “and they wanted him to be the mascot but I said no. I didn’t want it to be about one family. Still, he was constantly around and he was stuck in it. He was in every photograph.
“He didn’t remember coming back to Clonlara in 2008 after the county final. He remembers a fire on the road — a bonfire, but he didn’t remember the event or anything about it and now all these years later he’s hurling with John Conlon who was on that team.”
The Gullys’ journey sums up Clonlara’s long trek — Jim had the management reins for those few years and now Séimí, as goalkeeper, is the first man named in the team-sheet as the black and amber that flattered to deceive so many times in between those two senior titles have scaled the heights once more.
County champions and a team to be reckoned with — and looking forward to a Munster final at the weekend, just like they were back in 2007 after winning that county intermediate final against Killanena.
“I actually didn’t even know that we were even in the Munster competition in 2007 until after the intermediate final was over,” he remembers. “I think it was actually Seamus Hayes who said to me, you know, next week is the Cork champions you’re playing.
“You don’t even think about it. You’re just so wound up getting your team organized for a county final. I mean, they were young at that time. The team was extremely young — the team we have now is really young but in 2007 it was a team of babies.”
For Gully, Tipperary opposition provided the standout memory from that Munster campaign in 2007 when they travelled to MacDonagh Park in Nenagh.
“We played Lorrha-Dorrha in the semi-final,” he remembers, “and Paul Collins’ father died on Saturday and we were playing on Sunday. We were looking at calling off the match and I rang Paul and he said no way. ‘The lads are ready — I won’t be able to play but play the match’.
“We were eight points down 10 minutes into the second half and we won it by seven. It was a phenomenal performance by John Conlon, Darach Honan and Donal Madden. The three of them came alive in the last 20 minutes.
“From the hurling point of view, I would say the game against Carrigtwohill was the most satisfying of all the matches. We played brilliantly that day – it was a superb hurling match. The Lorrha-Dorra match for the sheer emotion of the whole thing was just it was just phenomenal,” he adds.
The Munster final win followed over Dromin-Atlacca from Limerick as the campaign rolled over into the following season, but having a proper crack at Munster at senior level has had to wait those 15 years.
“We didn’t have a chance in Munster in 2008 because it came too soon for us,” admits Gully.
“It came too soon because what most people don’t remember is that from January 2007 until November 2008 that team never stopped.
“We won the Clare Cup, we won the county and intermediate in Munster and were back out at Christmas training for the All-Ireland semi-final against Tommy Larkins. As soon as that finished at the end of January the Under 21s were gone and won the title on May weekend.
“Then four more of them went with county under 21s and they got to that ‘infamous’ Munster final in Ennis against Tipperary. As soon as that was over, we were back into the Club Championship.
“Then we drew our county semi-final with Crusheen. The replay was the following week, and the county final was the following week again. Then we were out six days later in the Munster club. We couldn’t do it — we got no chance to prepare properly for it.”
The result was they were beaten by 16 points by Sarsfields in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and the drought at senior level set in thereafter. Until this year, when county success means they’ve finally been given the chance to express themselves in Munster.
“After winning the county, we had the break,” says Gully, “and I think the incentive of playing in Thurles was absolutely massive. For every boy that grows up, particularly in Munster, Thurles is the venue.
“Everybody wants to play and thankfully, they got to do that and did themselves justice and got the job done. They had it won, they had it lost and then went and won it again. We had lost our shape and looked like we had lost everything and that’s what made it even all the sweeter when we found a way to win,” he adds.
Now for the big one against a Ballygunner team going for three-in-a-row and a completely different proposition to Killadangan.
“We were probably lucky that we didn’t get Ballygunner or Na Piarsaigh in the semi-final,” admits Gully, “but now we have Ballgunner it’s a huge challenge. It’s a select few that have been in the Munster final. When you get there make the most of it.
“The reigning champions haven’t put a foot wrong in 10 years, there probably would have been an awful lot more All-Irelands only Ballyhale Shamrocks just happened to be there. But they’re phenomenal — an absolute machine, and no question about it.
“They won’t be complacent because you don’t win ten county championships in a row by being that. My thing would be if Ballygunner are at 90%, we get more out of the two Galvins in particular as well as playing better than the last day, we will be there. I don’t think that was our best performance this year — that was in the Éire Óg game.
“If we go and play well the result will take care of itself — if we go and play well and are beaten that’s fair enough. Going there and performing is the main thing and we’ll see where that will take us.”

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