Clare played in last December All-Ireland football final

Clare played in last December All-Ireland football final

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The 2020 All-Ireland football final is set to go ahead in December instead of September when it has almost always been staged.

The final was held in October in 2016 and prior to that, at least 10 times in the same month since 1925. The last that the final was held so close to Christmas however was in 1917 when Clare made their only final appearance.

By Pauline Murphy

This year will see the All Ireland Football Final take place just weeks before Christmas. The last time a final took place in December was in 1917 and it saw the Bannermen take on Wexford for All Ireland glory.

In 1917 the Clare football team took the provincial football crown for the first time. It was a feat that would not be repeated again until 1992.

Back in 1917 Clare were guided to the Munster football title by Jim Foran and Sham Spellissy. The two hardworking trainers took their young team to a Munster Quarter Final meeting with Waterford who were easily dispatched on a scoreline of 2-06 to 0-03.

From there they went to the Market Field in Limerick on August 26th for a Munster semi final clash with neighbours Tipperary. The referee Tom Irwin oversaw the tense affair which resulted in Clare getting by the premier county 0-05 to 0-04.

Clare had to wait until October for their meeting with Cork in the Munster football final.

In front of 5,000 spectators in Tipperary town on the 14th of October Clare trounced the rebel county 5-04 to 0-01. They won their first provincial football title and as kings of Munster Clare went on to Athlone on the 18th of November for the All Ireland semi final.

On a cold and windy day in Athlone Clare took on Galway for a place in the All Ireland football Final. The banner men beat the tribesmen 2-01 to 0-05 and the next stop was Croke Park.

On December 9th up to 6,000 people gathered at the hallowed GAA grounds on Jones Road to witness the 1917 All Ireland final between a much fancied Wexford side and a Clare team tagged as under dogs.

To hold an All Ireland final in the depths of Winter may seem a little off putting for both spectator and player but, in 1917 The Irish Independent reported that ” the weather was ideal for outdoor games, the sun shining brilliantly.”

The fine climate ensured a pre-match parade could go ahead without any disturbance from Winter weather. The Irish Independent reported that ” Wexford were first to take to the field followed a little later by the Clare players who, headed by a Republican flag were loudly cheered.”

That Republican flag of the Clare team had the words ‘Up de Valera’ emblazoned across it and the team had walked out behind the same flag in their previous matches ever since Eamon de Valera won the east Clare by election for Sinn Fein in July 1917.

Clare had a history of parading behind political banners and flags before GAA matches. In 1914 the team walked out behind a banner declaring support for John Redmond and Home Rule. By 1917 the political mood had changed across Ireland and Clare fell firmly on the side of those fighting for a Republic. It was a fight which would claim many a life in Clare, including two of its footballers from the Munster winning side of 1917 – Michael MacNamara and Michael McMahon.

The Clare team were not the only ones to show their nationalist feelings  in Croke Park that day, Harry Boland carried the flag of the Irish Volunteers in front of the two teams during the pre match parade around the pitch.

Wexford also displayed a rebellious streak when they ignored travel restrictions imposed by the authorities which prevented people from taking long journeys in motor cars. The Wexford footballers and their entourage headed for Croke Park in a fleet of cars and the county board was later slapped with a 5 shilling fine!

Wexford did not care about the fine, they beat Clare 0-09 to 0-05 to claim their third All Ireland football title in a row. Many thought the Clare team would not dwell on their defeat for too long and be back the following year to possibly win an All Ireland football crown but, in the years that followed 1917 the struggle for freedom would supersede the struggle for an All Ireland football title in the banner county.

Clare football would trudge on into the 1920s and 30s but never managed to hit the highs of 1917. Clare would make Munster football finals in 1924, 25, 27, 29, 36, 37 and 41 and lost every one of them against the same county: Kerry!

Revenge would play out in 1992 when Clare got the better of Kerry in that years Munster football final, beating the kingdom 2-10 to 0-12.

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