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Mick Mackey and his 'Greyhounds' - the team that ran Clare off the park in the 1955 Munster final.

Time to right the wrongs of ’55

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Clare have played eight Munster finals in Limerick, but have yet to taste success with the 1955 final meeting in the Gaelic Grounds being among the most famous, or infamous, deciders of them all writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.

“THOSE AMAZING Clare hurlers have done it again,” gushed one of the great GAA reporters of the time, Pádraig Puirséal, as the Banner boys cut a dash in the Gaelic Grounds and at once looked on the cusp of greatness.
Munster and All-Ireland titles were being talked about. And why not? “We had the All-Ireland sewn up,” recalled Jimmy Carney from Bealaha, who played left-half-forward for Clare. “I was 19 years of age and all I had on my mind was an All-Ireland medal,” he added.
It was Carney’s goal against Tipperary that lit up the Gaelic Grounds before they edged home to one-point victory thanks to a late white flag from Jimmy Smyth. All that after they’d edged past Cork by a point in Thurles.
A couple of one-point victories had made them – in the same way that victories by a similar margin over Limerick and Cork has made the Clare team in 2023.
In 1955, however, it arguably seemed more significant. Cork and Tipperary were the twin pillars of Munster, who had split the previous six Munster and All-Ireland titles between them evenly down the middle.
And there was more – Clare had also beaten Wexford in the Oireachtas final, the team that would go on to win the next two All-Ireland finals.
They’d all been turned over by Clare. They were that good and now finally at the fifth attempt they were going to win a Munster final in Limerick – they knew what it was like to win big games in the Gaelic Grounds, after all, just like the class of ’23 know.
This was where Tull Considine had ran riot in the second half of the 1932 All-Ireland semi-final against Galway; and it was in the Irish Press words of Pádraig Puirséal it was where Jimmy Carney “slipped through the ruck to flash it past Reddan” before “Jimmy Smyth now took off his boots and almost at once pointed a free to send Clare’s supporters delirious”.
All that was left was the crowning glory of being Munster champions against Limerick on their own ground – all that is left in 2023 is the crowning glory of being Munster champions against Limerick on their own ground.
“ALL READY FOR VICTORY,” boasted The Clare Champion in bold and capitalised font on the eve of the game.
Indeed, this Munster final joust with Limerick — only the second ever meeting between the sides in the provincial final showpiece was just a stepping stone to greater things. 1955 was about the All-Ireland, not just the Munster Final.
“As the weeks go by since the first two games of the current championship, Clare’s achievement looks greater,” said the Champion’s correspondent, “beating the All-Ireland champions and the National League holders within a fortnight. It would make any team favourites for the supreme title which Clare has only gained once and contested on only one other occasion,” he added.
It was as if the Munster title was, in the words of Jimmy Carney, sewn up.
After all, it was only Limerick – the county they’d beaten by 10-8 to 1-1 in the 1953 championship meeting between the sides, a 34-point mauling that prompted John D Hickey to say in his report “were hurling a professional rather than amateur game I could well see this morning’s Irish Independent carrying an advertisement in letters bold and big: ‘WANTED A LIMERICK HURLING TEAM'”.
By 1955 Limerick had just that, with only three survivors from ’53 in corner-back Donal Broderick from Dromcollogher, centre-forward Dermot Kelly from Claughan and corner-forward Gerry Fitzgerald from Rathkeale.
The men of Clare against the boys of Limerick was the narrative, but a few lines from The Clare Champion’s preview of the game were telling. “This is destined to be one of the fastest Munster Finals ever fought as the opposing sides are amongst the liveliest in the country, young and agile,” it stated.
“Limerick will pin their best hopes speed, concentrating on getting there first and striking quick. Clare has an outstanding defence, but it will have to move faster than usual to cope with the spirited Limerick combination,” the preview added.
And there was more: “Dermot Kelly has the experience to worry Clare’s O’Grady”.
It proved prescient.

IT WAS the hottest day of the year as temperatures touched 28 degrees – so much so that there 23,125 at the game — a drop of over 15,000 from the semi-final against Tipperary – as thousands of Limerick supporters who didn’t hold out much hope headed for Ballybunion and Kilkee instead.
They went west, because according to ‘Camán’ in The Limerick Leader, “few could see a crowd of young Limerick lads, a lot of them not yet to reach their majority making any impression on the solid Banner County defences that had withstood successfully the terrific barrage of the Rackards, the Rings, the Bannons and all the big scoring figures of recent years”.
Before the game the St John’s Brass Band played ‘Faith Of Our Fathers’, but then as the game dragged on Clare lost the faith.
“Long before the half way stage was reached the field was a mass of wide-eyed, open-mouthed spectators marvelling at the speed of the Limerick youngsters, and wondering whether Clare had any tricks left to counter a new hurling technique that set a pace yards faster than anything previously encountered,” said ‘Camán’.
Clare trailed by four at half-time, then by 2-9 to 0-5 by the three-quarter stage as many shocked Clare supporters began heading for the exits.
“At half-time Mick Mackey got up on the table and I never saw or heard an ovation like it,” recalled Dermot Kelly, who hit 0-12 [some reports said 1-12] that day.
“He was like a hound after a hare up in Liscannor, with the hare cornered. He was like Martin Luther King or John F Kennedy. The words were flowing out of him.
“That’s where you saw the hurling passion come out in him. Having Mick Mackey as a trainer was worth its weight in gold, because everyone was in awe of him at the time. ‘We have ‘em, we have ‘em,’ he said. We were all about three feet off the ground going out for the second half,” added Kelly.
“Mackey banged the galvanised roof with the hurley at half-time,” revealed wing-forward Ralph Prendergast, “and said Clare have never beaten us in the Munster Championship here and they aren’t going to start now. I believed him and vowed to myself that I wasn’t going to be on a team that was the first team to be beaten. I was only 19 so I was easily fired up”.
Sunday, July 10th, 1955 is a day that will go down as one of the most glorious in the long story of Gaelic Games by the Shannon,” he thundered.
“I know there were many ardent Limerick hurling followers kicking their heels restlessly on the beaches of Kilkee and Ballybunion when the all too brief message flashed over the ether, Limerick 2-16 Clare 2-6,” wrote Camán.
“Hundreds wondered if there was any mistake and some were inclined to think the scores were reversed — even at that they were satisfied Limerick had made a good showing. The win was eventually confirmed and the rest of the time was spent gasping for details of the victory.
“Clare players and spectators were bewitched and bewildered by the lightening pace and rapid strokes of the green jerseyed brigade, who hurled with the unison of a well-geared machine, and had the happy knack of being in two or three places at the one time,” he added.
“It was an astonishing defeat,” said The Clare Champion. “Clare were wiped off the field by a rampant Limerick team which could not be matched for speed, accuracy and dash. The winners set to their task from the first minute with zest and vigour reminiscent of the Limerick of the ’30s and ’40s and before long had Clare with their backs to the wall. They commanded the game throughout and were dictators of the pace from the start”.
It’s 68 years ago – 68 years on and finally it’s the chance to right the wrong of ’55 and beat Limerick in a Munster final in the Gaelic Grounds.
A very long time coming – ‘worth waiting for’ as Capt Anson said when sinking a glass of beer in Ice Cold in Alex.
‘Worth waiting for’ everyone of a saffron and blue hue who has heard of ’55 will sing, while flooring many glasses of beer on Sunday.

About Joe O'Muircheartaigh

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