Banner did not win the war, but they won the last battle

Banner did not win the war, but they won the last battle

For several generations now it has been common for Clare teams to head across the road to the Sherwood Inn in the Ennis Shopping Centre after training or a game in Cusack Park for something to eat. 

Yesterday hundreds of supporters, joined by a good few Cork fans as well, dashed over there during the game for some shelter from the monsoon that had besieged Ennis.

Although the outcome of the game was still in the balance, that sizeable number of punters, many with children in hand, who had assumed spots in the uncovered northern terrace section of the ground made a calculation about midway through the second half when the tempest was at its height, accompanied by crackles of thunder.

Remaining witness to a possible boost in self-esteem and even actualisation for their county for sure would have been pleasant, but not quite as urgent or as primal as their own physiological needs and safety.

And so the drenched in their dozens followed the remainder of the game on their phones, either checking their twitter feeds or putting it up to their ear on full volume to follow the radio updates.

Maybe for some of their decision to abandon the ground and retreat to the shopping centre was influenced in the knowledge that the way Tipp-Limerick was transpiring, a Clare victory was going to be technically academic.

But what would have made it all the easier for the Clare crowd to take refuge at that point was because they could already take comfort that the home side had delivered on what they had come to see. There was nothing academic about that.

Last Saturday in these pages Anthony Daly issued a war cry as well as an ultimatum to the Clare players: Stand Up and Fight.

And that they did, restoring not just pride in themselves but some of the mystique about the cauldron that Cusack Park can be for visiting teams.

Twenty-one years ago this week in one of those booths in the Sherwood, Ger Loughnane, ahead of another Cork-Clare game, rewrote the art of hurling war and dispensed with some of its more gentlemanly protocols by coming up with the idea of issuing a dummy team. 

Banner did not win the war, but they won the last battle

Michael O’Halloran and Conor Clancy were named but would not start; instead Brian Quinn and Alan Markham took to the field in Thurles, leading Loughnane to take great glee from the sight of a perplexed Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Tom Cashman scrambling for their programmes.

That same game was also the first time that we would see something else that’s normal practice now. The idea might seem quaint these days, but it used to be that players stood for the national anthem in their position, beside their direct opponent. 

Clare were the first team to stand to the flag as a unit. Such gestures of non-conformity and defiance, along with the trademark bolt by Daly, Lohan and Fitzgerald from the tunnel, prompted Liam Griffin to write in these pages that Clare had approached the game as if it was “The Last Game Ever”.

Yesterday Clare displayed a spirit of ’98 in a way they possibly haven’t done since Daly made a similar call to arms for the 2004 All Ireland quarter-final against Kilkenny; there’s a Clare Way, he’d say, which without, Clare, at least then, were at nothing.

Yesterday Clare made it clear in everything that they did that they were on a war footing.

Everything they did was full of intent. 

Like in ’98, the management went with a daring selection that differed from that in the official programme, throwing in the McCarthy brothers who provided a boldness and freshness that Clare could have done so earlier in this campaign.

Although it wasn’t the first time they’ve done so, it was striking how all the management were out on the field a couple of minutes before the players. 

Obviously the final words in the dressing room were being left to and said to the players; ultimately, for all the speculation of Moloney and O’Connor’s future status, it was the players who’d have to come out fighting.

And that they did. Before the opening bell. As Alan Cadogan ran into towards the Clare goalmouth to assume his position, he was met by David McInerney who repeatedly shouldered him. 

Then, when the ball was eventually thrown in, Clare had the ball in the back of the net up at the other end of the field within 20 seconds.

Even the normally sanguine O’Connor got in on the act, engaging with an opponent on the line, the kind of behaviour you’d normally associate with his m

ore animated predecessor. He was duly sent up to the stand, just as Davy was in Salthill a couple of weeks ago, but, as Daly would make the point to Joanne Cantwell, it was precisely what his team needed on the day; disagree, and well, like Elliott Ness might have said to the Mountie, you’re not from Clare.

It was the same in the second half. 

Banner did not win the war, but they won the last battle

Or even before it. As typical of a Donal Moloney team, Clare let Cork go out ahead of them, but when Kelly went to assume his position much like Cadogan had before the first throw-in of the day, he was the one thundering into his marker.

As Kieran Donaghy would phrase it, he was the aggressor, a lot better role than being the reactor, which Stephen McDonnell would assume, by frustratingly lashing out with a dig to Kelly’s belly that should have warranted a red instead of a yellow card.

Clare did not win the war, and Moloney and O’Connor may have just presided over their last battle.

But they won that last battle, not just ensuring that should they depart, they do so not only with honour , but also having restored some of the aura and reputation of Cusack Park as a fortress, the kind of place you don’t want to visit.

The pity and question is, could they not have brought more of that belligerence to the party earlier?

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