Former Clare manager Ger Loughnane picks his greatest hurling memory in a new book called Blood, Sweat, Triumph and Tears – Tales From The GAA by John Scally published by Black and White Publishing.
The Clare Herald includes an extract from the book below in which the two-time All-Ireland winning manager recounts a truly unique and special victory from his time in charge.
‘I’ll never forget our most thrilling victory. It was against Tipperary in Pairc Uí Chaoimh in 1997. We had set our sights on winning the All-Ireland in ’97. We had great days in ’95, beating Cork in the Championship in ’97 was wonderful but from a purely hurling point of view because of their great tradition and well-deserved reputation to beat Tipperary was the day of days.
It was a beautiful sunny day. We had gone into the ’95 All-Ireland in a relaxed frame of mind but there was no relaxation that day. We went to Cork with a sense of going on a mission that was only recaptured when we played Waterford in the Munster Final replay the following year. Everybody was totally up for it. When we met the bus outside the Shamrock Hotel Frank Lohan was dancing from foot to foot. When Fitzy arrived he was pale. There was none of the usual chatter. This was the day. There was an awful lot at stake.
As usual the team went to bed after breakfast and the mentors and I went for a walk in the grounds of UCC. It was the first time I had been there and it’s a really beautiful place but all the time the thought was flashing in our minds: this is the day.
We went for a puckout in the Mardyke. Afterwards I called on the players and told them that they had done so much for Clare already but today we wanted a really special effort. I said in a soft voice, ‘Everything we’ve achieved is at stake today. Our entire reputation rests on the match.’ We went onto the coach and really the bus didn’t need an engine to power it. Everybody was totally geared up.
My last words to them were, ‘Everything depends on today. Make every second of every minute count.’
I can’t remember everything before the two All-Irelands but I can remember every second of that day. As soon as we went we could feel the tension that was in the air. It wasn’t a tension that drained you it was a tension that enlivened you. For the first time when the names of each of the Clare players were read out there was a massive cheer. The crowd was really up for it. There was an incredible sense of oneness between the team and the fans.
When the game began we were playing at 90 miles an hour. We made a brilliant start and led by 0-13 to 0-8 at the interval. Barely seven minutes after the re-start Tipperary were level and playing with the wind. The Tipp supporters started singing Sliabh Na mBan. I immediately leapt to my feet and shouted to each of the players, ‘Is that the sound you want ringing in your ears all the way home.’ Clare lifted their game and regained the lead almost immediately when Seánie scored a point from a free. Suddenly the tide had turned in our favour again. We brought on David Forde and he scored a wonder goal.
Clare were seemingly going to be beaten, after enjoying a huge lead. Then we came back, to lead again, with a magic goal. We were winning by three points. Then John Leahy broke through and Tipp almost scored a goal in the last minute to tie the match.
When the final whistle blew I just lost the head. I leapt out of the dugout and got a belt of a flag and my face was bleeding. Some lady jumped on me. I was ecstatic.
We won two All-Irelands and they were brilliant but this was unique. People outside Clare would find it very difficult to understand just how much it mattered. This was the dream for every Clare person for decades to beat Tipperary in a Munster final. Forget about All-Irelands. Had we won six All-Irelands and hadn’t beaten Tipp in a Munster final it wouldn’t have been as good but to win that day and go into the dressing-room was sheer bliss.
I made sure though the dressing-room was locked. The atmosphere inside was one of total and absolute contentment. We’re not supposed to feel it in this lifetime. There was no need for a word to be said between each other. The downside was you knew that there never would be a day like that again but it is a feeling that will last forever.
You didn’t even want to go out among the crowd afterwards. You wanted no patting on the back. We had all that when we won the All-Ireland in ’95. We just wanted to sit back and share that among ourselves. We didn’t want to leave the dressing-room because the magic was inside. It was great going out and meeting our relatives and everyone else in Clare but even though the fans felt brilliantly they just hadn’t felt what we felt in the dressing-room. Only those who were in there could ever understand what it was like. You just couldn’t get it anywhere else and that was the magic that was Clare.
The ’97 Munster final is the treasure of all treasures. You ask yourself did it ever really happen. Everything that day was just bliss. It wasn’t the All-Ireland final but the Munster final was more important to us than the All-Ireland. That’s what people don’t understand. Munster is magic because of the local rivalries. Whatever changes are made in hurling the Munster Championship must stay. You look at the Munster Championship and see the passion it generates. Croke Park is business. There is something spiritual about the Munster Championship.
It took us four hour hours to get home that night. All the towns we went through, like Charleville and Buttevant, were thronged with Clare people and Limerick fans delighted for Clare. It was such a pleasure. No night coming home from any All-Ireland final could match it. The only night that matched it was coming home from the Munster final in ’95. We felt we really had arrived as a major hurling power’.