Doonbeg scoring machine David Tubridy recently called time on his inter-county career after 16 seasons — a remarkable commitment to the Clare cause that saw him straddle five generations of management in the county from Páidí Ó Sé’s time through to Colm Collins’ stint. He spoke to Joe Ó Muircheartaigh about his treasured time in the saffron and blue.
DECEMBER 30 and Colm Collins was making a few end of year calls — Happy Christmas, Happy New Year and all that, but apart from the festive pleasantries, there was also the business of the call. Manager to player stuff.
David Tubridy knew it was coming, but that didn’t make it easier, because with the ring-tone would come the realisation that his ‘make your mind up time’ had landed. Finally.
Make his mind up on whether to pull the plug on a way of life since 2007, or make his mind up to go again and turn 16 years into 17 and answer Colm Collins’ call with just a thumbs up emoji that said he was ready, willing and able.
Sixteen years; 16 years of kicking scores for the county, 22-421 in league games and 9-140 in championship, while along the way becoming the highest ever scorer in the National Football League, when his 1-8 haul against Cork in 2021 helped him overtake Sligo legend Mickey Kearins.
“It was going to be very hard to let go after so long,” he admits, “but Colm’s line was always, ‘you can come back in January’. That was always his idea over the last few years, so that’s why I knew the call was coming and it was decision time.
“Over the last few years I was always saying to myself, ‘I’m not coming back, that’s it, I’m done’, but the hunger was still there once I got back into the gym and did a bit of running and then I wanted to come back.
“This year though, it was different. I felt after the Derry game [All-Ireland quarter-final] that it was different. Then as the months went on I was thinking about it and it was annoying me and I was frustrated about it.”
Then that phone call finally came.
“I actually missed the call,” he reveals, “as the phone was upstairs, but once I saw it, I had to make that final decision and call it, after delaying it up to them. It was hard.
“There are three teams I haven’t played against — Tyrone, Monaghan and Dublin. The chance to play Dublin this year was one of the incentives to stay on, because to play in Croke Park on a Saturday evening would have been unbelievable and was one of the factors for maybe staying, but…”
But, even going in against the ‘Royal’ Blues under the Croke Park lights on February 25th wasn’t enough of a pull, so it was time to pull the plug.
“I’d a chat with Dad, I’d a chat with Mam. The three of us were in the same room and I just felt it was time to go. I had to call it. It was tough. It got emotional inside there.”
That Tommy and Bridget were there when David called Colm back was entirely appropriate, because they’d been there every step of the way. At the matches; at work in the family pub where the matches were played over again; everywhere football took this Flying Magpie since he first started watching Doonbeg and Clare teams over 30 years ago.
“Tommy missed very few games,” quips David. “Even the games against London, I remember we played them in Ruislip one year and after the game I saw Mam and Dad walking across the field after the game. They hadn’t planned it, but after finishing in the pub the night before just booked a flight.”
“I missed the game up in Derry a few years ago,” remembers Tommy, “myself and Suzanne (his daughter) getting as far as Ennis, but the roads were so bad out by the Auburn Lodge we had to turn back.”
And it wasn’t just going to the games and kicking every ball and supporting over those 16 years — it was literally kicking every ball in training as well, whether it was up in Shanahan McNamara Park, in Cusack Park or wherever.
“I remember one day we played Roscommon in the National League in Cusack Park and I had a howler with my free taking,” recalls David. “I was terrible and I remember missing one right in front of the goals, just about 20 yards out.
“At the time I was practicing the frees, but I wasn’t really focusing in on them and Dad brought me over to Cusack Park a few days after it. I kicked about 30 or 40 frees — then he wouldn’t let me leave Cusack Park until I hit ten in a row. We were going over and back — the left side, the right side, from close in, from far out. I finally made it ten-in-a-row but the feet were fair sore the following morning.”
“After that we played Longford and we beat them by a point and I kicked all five frees and was kicking from angles that I would have missed the week before,” he added.
It’s why Tommy wasn’t too far away when David finally returned Colm Collins’ call and signed off on the 15-year career in saffron and blue.
David is 35 now and behind the bar of Tubridy’s Bar & Restaurant on the Long Village’s main drag — when he first saw the saffron and blue of Clare in here he was just five and the other side of the counter, running between bar and restaurant as the football team that opened the minds and imagination of everyone in Clare about what could be achieved.
It was August 1992 and the Clare team had just won the Munster title a few weeks before and were playing a challenge match against the Defence Forces in aid of the Goal charity up the road in Shanahan McNamara Park — of course Tubridy’s was where team and supporters repaired to afterwards.
“The team is up there on the wall,” says David, pointing to the special commemorative photograph of the class of ’92 that was commissioned after that historic first Munster title in 75 years.
“That team got me going. Dad would have played for Clare for 13 years, but I would only have been one or two when he finished but ’92 got me going. I’d be going to the Clare matches with him and he’d have a photo of the ’92 team.
“He’d block off all the names and go through the players and I could name every single player. If I went into another house or a bar with him he’d say, ‘David can name them all’. That’s how big ’92 was everyone and for me. I could see how huge it was at that age and it really influenced me.
“I would have been a mascot with Doonbeg teams all the way up and they were a lot of big games and wins. I would have been at every game and it continued as a mascot on until 1996.
“Then Dad got involved in Clare when Tommy Curtin was manager and every Tuesday and Thursday night I would be over in Ballyline and I’d be getting balls for the boys and pretending I was Francis McInerney or Martin Daly kicking points over on my own. I was always in and around county players that time.”
This total immersion is to be seen on the wall of the bar — Doonbeg’s championship winning teams starting with trailblazers of 1955 that were honoured in the pub 50 years later; the Clohanes-Doonbeg minor winning team on ’72 that Tommy was on that also had its Golden Jubilee toasted in Tubridy’s; Tommy in a race for possession with Kerry’s John Egan in the early 1980s; the framed Dublin jersey signed by the five-in-a-row squad when they dined in the restaurant during their getaway to Donald Trump’s links up the road in Doughmore; the gallery goes on and on.
The Dubs’ five-in-a-row manager Jim Gavin played for the Defence Forces selection in that Goal game against Clare in ’92, as did other luminaries like Shea Fahy, Kevin McStay and Dermot Hanafin, while one of the first men in the door of the bar after David announced his retirement was Clare’s Munster final winning captain from that year, Francis McInerney — the moral of the story then just as now, that it’s all football and was always football.
“It’s all I wanted,” says David, “so when I first got the call from Clare in 2007 I jumped at it. After finishing school I was away for a year in the Cayman Islands and missed the Under 21 win that Clare had over Kerry in 2007, but I was just back when I was called into training for the juniors.”
He kicked 0-7 for the juniors in their 1-11 to 0-7 win over Waterford in a game that was a curtain raiser to the seniors’ ignominious 1-6 to 0-7 defeat to the Deise that represented Páidí Ó Sé’s one and only championship game in charge of Clare.
But before Páidí’s hasty retreat for Ventry, there was the Tommy Murphy Cup to get out of the way, while David continued to hit the heights for the juniors by landing all but one of Clare’s scores in the 0-8 to 0-5 win over Kerry in the semi-final and then a further 0-6 in the heartbreaking 0-12 to 0-11 defeat to Cork in the Munster final in Limerick.
These scoring returns meant that a trend was set before he ever kicked a ball at senior inter-county level, with 0-20 over those three junior games making sure that Ó Sé’s final act as Clare manager was to set the county newest prodigious scoring talent on his way by handing him his first senior jersey.
“It was in Ardfinnan against Tipperary,” he remembers, “and there was hardly anyone there to see it. I always say that my first game was Declan Browne’s last game.
“It was great to get a chance to play against him and watch him. I remember he was kicking a free and as he was kicking it over the bar he was talking to the referee. He was some talent.”
Browne hit 0-8 that day for Tipperary, but that Tubridy wasn’t that much in awe of him told in the way he matched him point-for-point and also ended up with 0-8 as Clare won by 1-13 to 0-12, while he then tacked on 0-5 in the semi-final defeat to Antrim.
From Páidí Ó Sé through to Colm Collins — with Frank Doherty, Micheál McDermott and Mick O’Dwyer in between — the Doonbegman has been the marquee forward as he plundered his record haul of scores in the National League as Clare slowly started up moving up through the ranks after treading water for many years.
“The first game was against Carlow in Miltown and they brought in a new yellow card rule that day and we were down three players and finished the game with 12,” he recalls.
“It wasn’t a good start as we were beaten and lost our first four games that year, but we picked after that.”
These were the years when Clare couldn’t get out of Division 4 — there were some green shoots amid the stagnation like the All-Ireland Qualifier display in Ballybofey in 2009 under Doherty’s watch when Tubridy’s haul 1-4 brought Donegal to the wire before they escaped with a three-point win.
The following year under Micheál McDermott they were closer again to a big scalp when 2010 All-Ireland finalists Down only escaped from Cusack Park with a 1-13 to 1-12 win, while more recently the games that Clare went toe-to-toe with Kerry teams in Cusack Park were other stand-out championship days.
“In 2014 the four points that was between ourselves and Kerry was a missed opportunity,” he remembers. “We always thought we could take them in Cusack Park and it was frustrating the few times we didn’t.
In that 2014 game Shane McGrath hit 1-2 off David Moran in the first half. Bryan Sheehan hit some worldlies in the second half. Then in 2017 Jamie Malone crashed a ball off the crossbar when a goal would have put us four up,” he adds.
What might have been, but all the same there were some great championship days, most notably the victories over Roscommon in 2016 and last year that made Clare one of the country’s elite, by being a Top Eight team.
“The win over them in Pearse Stadium was massive,” he says, “even though they were coming off a defeat in the Connacht final the week before. The crowds that we saw from the bus that day as we were going up to Galway were huge.
“The cars with the flags hanging out — I hadn’t seen that in a long, long time with Clare football. We got a Garda escort and as we were going through Clarenbridge all the Clare supporters were out on the street cheers us go by and then they were out on the field after the game. It was something else.
“It was the same when we beat them last year. It was some comeback and I was right behind Jamie Malone when he hit that winning score. I popped the ball off to him and knew it was going over the second he kicked it and had my finger in the air. It was some buzz afterwards.”
One of the enduring images from that day was afterwards when Tubridy went over to the sideline to greet the young under 13 and 15 Magpies that had travelled to Croke Park to see their hero play his part in Clare’s first ever senior championship victory in Croke Park.
“A huge day,” admits David, “but still the best day for me was in 2014 up against Antrim in the National League when we went beyond Belfast to Creggan to play them. Out of all the days we had that was the day that stands out the most.
“We had to win to be sure of promotion and we were up against in in the second half. My sister Lorraine’s husband was at the game and near the end he was roaring in that we were safe because Tipperary were beating Wicklow by five points, which meant we didn’t need to win.
“I didn’t hear him shouting but we held on anyway to win and then afterwards heard that Wicklow got two late goals to beat Tipp which would have knocked off the promotion place in we didn’t win. It was hard won but that was the day we were waiting seven years for — promotion out of Division 4 at last and something in my head said this was the day that changed Clare football.”
David Tubridy’s prodigious scoring helped change Clare football. Of that, there’s little doubt.