County Clare was dealt a major blow with the passing of one of its greatest sons last week. Newmarket on Fergus native, Michael Arthur was laid to rest at the weekend and the fantastic sending off received was fitting for one of the most respected men in Clare.
Michael had a very distinguished sporting career which saw him play hurling for the historic Newmarket on Fergus team of the sixties and seventies while he had the honour of captaining his County in 1970. On the football field he also represented Clare along with Mooghaun. GAA was not the only sport Michael excelled at, as he played for both Shannon Rugby Club and Munster as a winger in the early sixties.
In his soccer career, Michael lined out for Newmarket Celtic, Limerick Reserves and Ennis United who competed in the top flight of the Limerick Junior League. On the athletics front, Michael was highly regarded throughout the Country. To top all of that, boxing was another sport played by the Newmarket great and the general consensus in the boxing circles was that he was more than able to represent his country in the sport.
Representing the Saffron and Blue of Clare as a hurler, Michael made forty four appearances for his County and scored a total of 15-09 whilst wearing the Clare jersey. Michael made his Clare debut in 1954 for the minors playing corner forward against Tipperary in a tie that the Premier County came out on top in. A junior debut followed in 56 against Waterford, but Michael made his first appearance for the seniors in 1957 in the National League against Tipperary.
His development as a senior hurler was greatly affected by the infamous ban that operated within the Gaelic Athletic Association. When a GAA player was caught playing other sports such as soccer or rugby, they were banned from the organisation for playing ‘foreign sports’. Michael was banned in the late fifties until 1966 for his allegiance to the other codes.
While Clare and Newmarket on Fergus suffered as a result of Michael’s ban, Shannon Rugby Club benefited as did Munster as they inherited a gifted winger in 1959. During his time with Shannon, Michael secured two Junior Cup medals in 1961 and 1962 and a Charity Cup medal in 63 and a Senior League medal in the same season. In a Munster Senior Cup tie for Shannon in the early sixties, Michael marked highly regarded rugby player Tony O’Reilly who was togging for Dolphin and managed to keep him scoreless.
Speaking exclusively to The Clare Herald, former Irish rugby international and first in fact from Shannon Rugby Club, Brian O’Brien a past teammate of Michael Arthur’s praised the traits of the legendary Clareman. The former Irish manager highlighted the “never say die attitude” of Michael and stated he was “pound for pound the best athlete I’ve ever come across”.
O’Brien also stated that Michael “had everything” and not alone was he an “incredible man” but an extremely “clever man”, “a great friend” yet very “humble”. O’Brien concluded that Michael was a “once-off”. The respect held by Brian O’Brien for Michael Arthur as a rugby player is only surpassed by his respect for Michael Arthur as a man.
Michael also lined out for his province on two occasions. He played on the wing against Ulster and the British Wolfhounds who were touring the province at the time. This milestone occurred in the mid sixties. In the year 1966, Newmarket on Fergus were dealt a mammoth blow in their bid to secure the County Championship as Jim ‘Puddin’ Cullinane, Paddy Mc Namara and Jim Woods were all dished out suspensions by the Clare County Board.
With that, the two local priests in the village at the time were aware what a particular Avondale resident had to offer and enquired with Michael Arthur would he return. The thing about Michael Arthur as the Priests discovered was when one asked him to carry out a task, he did it to best of his ability and he returned to tog for the Blues and put behind his rugby career to one side. It has been argued that he was destined to play for his Country but as those involved in the GAA circles are aware of, the influence of the club holds no limit. However, Michael did play one final rugby game at the age of sixty in 1995 for Shannon in a friendly encounter.
The beautiful game was another sport in which Arthur had mastered. While employed at Shannon Airport, Michael was approached to play soccer with the Limerick reserves. In March 1960, Ennis United was established and the club called upon the best soccer players in the town and beyond to sign for the club who then entered in the top flight of the Limerick junior league. In the Saxone Cup, Ennis United defeated Wembley Rovers 3-2 and The Clare Champion reported “at centre half, Michael Arthur ruled Lord and master over all attacking moves down the centre. If there is a better centre half in Limerick football than Arthur, we have yet to see him.” Just like his rugby career, Michael’s exploits on the soccer field ended in 1966 when he resumed his hurling career.
Whilst representing his beloved Newmarket on Fergus, Michael secured seven senior county championship medals. The first came in 1955 when a then nineteen year old Michael Arthur lined out at wing forward on the Blues team that defeated Éire Óg, a win that bridged an eighteen year gap. He had to wait twelve years for his next title and it came at the expense of rivals Clarecastle in 1967.
Michael served as player-trainer in 68 when another County title was conquered but this was matched by the club’s first Munster club championship as Newmarket brushed aside the Christy Ring trained Glen Rovers, Ballygunner of Waterford and Tipperary’s Carrick Davins in the final to become the undisputed kings of Munster club hurling.
1969 saw Michael captain the Blues to County Honours and the leadership shown by the skipper had a huge impact on his fellow teammates in retaining the County title. Further medals were acquired in 1971, 72 and 73. When Michael captained Newmarket in 69 he was dubbed ‘King Arthur’ a title he was too humble to mention at all, but it was a title that was very fitting of the man.
Another sport at which Michael competed in was athletics. He didn’t compete in as much events for athletics but despite a brief spell in the sport, he still left an impact. In the mid sixties, Michael competed in an indoor meeting at the Curragh and in an 80m sprint and defeated the then Irish champion, Martin Lynch along with Mick Lanigan. It was the only event athletic event Michael competed in but nonetheless the athletic community were still impressed by the Newmarket man.
Top Irish athlete at the time, Tony Sheehan when chatting to The Clare Herald commented that Arthur was “the best sprinter I’ve ever seen.” Sheehan a former teammate of Michael’s at Shannon was of the firm belief that Michael never got to where he could have on the athletics front but remarked that he had “never seen anything like him.”
The training carried out by Michael Arthur has become the stuff of legend. He was ahead of his time when it came to training for hurling and he was often spotted carrying logs whilst running through Dromoland. When Michael used to go running, he jumped over gates without putting a single hand on the gate he was about to leap over. It has been said that at peak fitness when there was a fierce wind, Michael would head up to Dromoland, break a few palm bushes and throw them in the sky for the wind to catch before chasing off after them and catching them.
During the funeral mass for Michael Arthur, Fr Harry Bohan a dear friend of Michael’s declared that “Michael was the greatest sportsperson to ever come out of Clare.” Fr Harry Bohan has seen a host of sporting names down through the years including the Clare teams of 95, 97 and 2013 but in his opinion Michael was the most well rounded sportsman he had ever seen.
Off the sporting field, Michael helped establish ‘Clare Pride’, a charity which invited Clare people everywhere to come together and form a new team to assist in funding. This was founded in the wake of Clare’s All-Ireland win of 1997. He was renowned for his devotion to religion as well as all of his charity work down through the years. Following his retirement from his playing career, Michael became heavily involved in training the hurling and camogie teams in Newmarket on Fergus.
Michael is survived by his wife Mary B, daughters Michelle and Edel and son Sean, his brothers, sisters, six grandchildren, extended family and dear friends. His likes will not be seen again but his memory will live on.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.