In a keynote speech at the civic reception to honour the Clare senior hurling teams of 1977-78, Fr Harry Bohan, manager of the Clare team that won back-to-back national league titles in 1977-78, recalled losing two Munster finals as “nothing short of heartbreaking” and said many of those involved will go to their graves with that.
Cllr Joe Cooney, leader of the Fine Gael group in Clare County Council and chairman of Clare GAA County Board, pays tribute to the team of 1977-78
Clare County Council marked the 40th anniversary with a civic reception for the team and management. Mayor Tom McNamara described the two league victories as, “the moment Clare hurling emerged from the shadows to become a real force putting it up to the likes of Kilkenny and Cork.”
He added that the event also celebrated those individuals who went on to become key figures in the development of Clare hurling at both club and county level over the next four decades.
Mayor McNamara said, “the team that competed in three successive league finals sowed the seeds and instilled a belief in a new generation of Clare hurlers that we could compete at the top table of hurling.”
He also credited Fr Harry Bohan for instilling a fearless attitude in the group, casting aside any inferiority complex. “Fr Harry,” he said, “emboldened players to take on the established county teams and to make them fear Clare instead”.
Clare defeated Kilkenny in the national league finals of 1977 and 78 securing a title that the Banner had not won in 31 years. While the team failed to win a Munster Championship, they ran Cork close in 1977 and, again in 1978.
Recalling that some of the greatest moments in Clare hurling took place during the late 1970s, Mayor McNamara said, “It is not a stretch to suggest that the spirit of this team would ignite future successes in the years to come”.
He added, “I believe that this group of players were one of hurling’s greatest ever teams to never win an All Ireland final.”
Fr Harry Bohan reflects on – why us?
Fr Harry thanked the council for the civic honour on behalf of the players and management team and paid tribute to Seamus Durack, Johnny Callinan and Enda O’Connor for helping to organise the event.
This is what he had to say: “When I heard about this I thought the occasion gives us an opportunity to reflect on – why us? Why are we being honoured in this way? Or, what makes us special and why did this team mean so much to Clare people and why are so many of this team still talked about?
Looking back on my own opinions of why, I think members of the team became household names, not through the misfortune of being unlucky in Munster finals but above all through their consistency.
Clare hurling teams were always capable, down through the years, of one-off huge performances in which they could rattle any opponent but the problem for generations of Clare teams was a lack of consistency.
In the 90 years of the GAA, Clare only played in five Munster finals up until the 1970s and one league final. In a four year period, between 75 and 79, they played 34 matches, won 24, drew 5 and lost 5. During the same period, they played in four Munster finals.
Putting it mildly, I would be the first to acknowledge that time which is forever ingrained, the loss of two Munster finals, it was nothing short of heart-breaking and I’d say a lot of us will go to the grave with that.
What distinguishes this team from others was that they came to be trusted to put in a performance, to win a lot more matches than they lost and against the best.
To non-hurling people, the game had come to be seen up to that point as a closed shop, always the same names, Cork, Tipp and Kilkenny being engraved in silverware. That was the reality and Clare wasn’t one of these names historically.
But this team challenged the prejudice of history. I could never believe why Kilkenny, Cork or Tipp should have dominated hurling as they did and not Clare where there is a passionate love of the game.
We posed the question: Why not us? Why not Clare? That prejudice could be suffocating.
On one occasion I was asked to replace the regular Clare selector picking a Munster team. I was told that I would be lucky if I got one Clare player on. I got five on. The great Mick Mackey was the Limerick selector, when we were finished, he said to me “Harry, there will be white blackbirds in Clare in the morning when they hear there are five Claremen on the Munster team”.
In a way wasn’t he saying what he thought of us? Call it what you like, inferiority complex, lack of ambition or expectation. I call it a kind of prejudice and I have no doubt that can almost diminish people in the negativity that it breeds. It is such a powerful force. Unless people are willing to open their minds to the possibility of defying it, and their bodies to the work required to perform, history will forever keep them down. I think this is what this Clare team began – they refused to stay down.
Sometimes sport is a mirror of life and the easiest thing is to accept your perceived limitations. Isn’t this why large parts of the West of Ireland are a prairie, whilst the M50 around Dublin is a car park where traffic can scarcely move. That need have never been allowed to happen. Our natural settlement pattern of villages, small and medium-sized towns have been destroyed.
I want to thank and congratulate the council for putting in a lot of serious work to take on that challenge as well and I want to support them in any way I can.
The bottom line is that people must have confidence in living life and be getting things done. Ger Loughnane quoted Henry Shefflin when he said that attitude is more important than tactics.
There is an old saying; “It’s the few who make things happen, the many who watch things happen and the majority who don’t know what’s happening.” Maybe it’s important to turn that around, and this can be done by fostering confidence in people and their basic values.
I think we made some contribution to that in the 1970s but there is no doubt, and this can never ever be understated, that was crowned in the ‘90s under Ger and in 2013. They were glorious years for Clare hurling and they have contributed to putting Clare in a very serious place now in the world of hurling.
I’d like to think that the Clare hurling team of the 70s were very much part of the people and in their efforts sowed some seeds and contributed by fostering a confidence in themselves and in the county as a whole.”