PM O'SULLIVAN: Galway’s loss proved Clare’s gain, twice over

Few understand the Clare v Galway dynamic better than Gus Lohan, who hurled for both counties in the same season, writes PM O'Sullivan.

There was county football played too, for Monaghan, and Gus’ switch from Cappataggle in Galway to Newmarket-on-Fergus in Clare paid rich dividend for the Banner a generation later, when sons Brian and Frank won two All-Ireland titles. Today, in Croke Park, a father and son will take some joy whatever the result.

Gus Lohan is admirably content with not remembering everything but he does recall his first score for Clare.

The occasion was a Munster Championship first round against Waterford on May 19, 1968. “I was playing centre-back,” he says. “I caught a puckout, right at the end, and I hit it back over the bar. There must have been a good breeze behind me.”

First scores are never less than memorable but this one was more special again. The twist lay not just in this point winning Clare the game, 1-12 to 2-8, a victory that brought Tipperary in the semi-final. That day was lost by five points after a tremendous struggle, both teams scoring five goals.

That true twist? Three months earlier, Clare had met Galway in an NHL tie. Gus Lohan lined out centre-back with the Westerners. Previous seasons had seen him hurl for his native county in the Munster Championship against the same opposition.

Imagine a scenario in which Gearóid McInerney hurled last spring with Galway and today went out in the Clare colours.

Back in the 1960s, the GAA was a different country as regards a transfer. Having hurled for one county during the league, you could declare for another one before the championship.

Such cases were much more common in earlier decades and Lohan’s switch was part of a last hurrah on this front.

Thus the headline on the front page of Gaelic Weekly News for May 11, which read: ‘Gus Lohan for Clare’. If the prominence attests to one hurler’s prowess, it likewise acknowledges the newsworthiness of rarity.

Hurlers switching county, mainly for work reasons, was common during the 1920s, ’30s and’40s. Far less so, then on.

What convinced this man’s mind? Fifty years later, Gus Lohan is sitting with his second son, Frank, in the courtyard of a Limerick restaurant. The decision proved a rich one on all fronts. Galway’s loss proved Clare’s gain, twice over.

“There were a few things,” he says. “Fr Jackie Solon was leaving the Galway camp, and I didn’t think it would be the same without him. Fr Jackie was a fair man, with no agendas. He was an outsider, from Whitegate in Clare.

“A lot of the Galway selectors of that time were more concerned with getting their own lads on the team than with getting the best team on the pitch. It was very factionalised. Galway did poorly during their stint in the Munster Championship, and you’d have to say a big reason for it was bad selections.”

The hinge became a posting to Newmarket on Fergus. He joined the Gardaí in 1961, following the same path as an older brother, Brendan. Gus Lohan is low key and reserved, a pendulum moving but a fraction to either side. His temperament would seem to have made this career an ideal one.

Ideal on so many fronts. “Later on, Brendan was posted to Emly and he settled in Tipp Town,” he relates.

“When the lads started hurling for Clare, it made it interesting going over there. Brendan married into out and out Tipperary supporters.”

‘Interesting’ is one word to choose. There are probably other candidates. Those young men were Brian Lohan and Frank Lohan, full-back and corner-back in a truly great backline, the Clare defence of the mid to late 1990s.

Their team ripped to two senior titles, 1995 and 1997, and could even have managed a couple more.

The Lohans had older cousins, Tony and Willie, who hurled with Arravale Rovers and later became stalwarts with St Gabriel’s in London. The Clare-Tipperary rivalry coursed during the 1990s, the strongest force in the cascades that made up a glittering decade. Did their presence soften at all the blow of Tipperary losing so many big matches to Clare?

Frank inhales and lets out a slow whistle: “I don’t know about that…” Then a typical laugh: “I don’t know about that at all!”

He continues: “We’d still see Tony and Willie. They’d be over for matches at Croke Park, and we’d run into them into Dublin. But those matches with Tipperary were a serious time…”

That these two Lohans were available as two-thirds of that defence is a story that bears telling. Their father was born on October 6, 1941 outside the village of Aughrim in East Galway. A farm? “Nearly,” he replies. “Close to being one.”

Frank remarks: “It was nearly all agricultural, then, wasn’t it?” His father nods: “Yes, there was hardly anything else about. Outside of work, there was only the hurling and the football.”

Aughrim lay in a tangle with the adjacent parishes of Cappataggle and Kilconnell. This youngster grew up in a time of tournaments, where the prize was bicycles, gold watches, suit lengths. Gus Lohan likewise developed into a decent footballer, playing with St Gabriel’s, the local outfit down the Kilconnell side. They won a Galway Junior title in 1962.

The same year, the hurlers of Cappataggle were intermediate champions. A powerful force at full-forward, Lohan got noticed. But he remains a man who likes to tell a tale against himself.

“I got called up in late 1962 with the Galway seniors for a challenge match with Dublin,” he recollects.

“We were there after the match having a meal and the priest that was over the team was at the other table, with his back to me.

"I heard him say to the man beside him: ‘I thought this Lohan fella was meant to be a great lad?’

“What I said to the lads was that it doesn’t augur very well for me for the next day…”

That Gaelic Weekly News headline meant he later thrived. Fr Solon’s mentoring proved enduringly important. His counsel gave him a sense of purpose, a sense of where the GAA fitted into a bigger social picture.

A neighbour in Aughrim, Vincent Kenny, influenced the preference for hurling. “Some of the brilliant Tynagh club team of the 1920s got farms of land around us,” Lohan reflects. “Vincent was one of them, and he provided a field in front of his house for us to hurl in. We used to be at it from dawn to dusk, a full day every Sunday.”

He elaborates: “Mick Kenny, Vincent’s brother, captained Galway to win the 1923 All-Ireland. So I picked up all that from him. Staff Garvey and Leonard McGrath, two locals, were also on that 1923 team. But I never met them.”

Think about it. That All-Ireland final, which was played in September 1924, was as close to Gus Lohan, 13 in 1954, as the 1988 All-Ireland final is to today’s teenagers. He was set on a course, even if it would always include football.

By 1962, he had trained at the Phoenix Park Depot. His first posting sent him to Inniskeen in County Monaghan. That their new young Guard was a big powerful man did not go unnoticed.

He laughs, setting out this slice of his life: “Donaghmoyne, a neighbouring club, were reputed to be fierce dirty. They put me out against them, and I held my own. But I had a wonderful man beside me in midfield, Joey Byrne, a tremendous fielder of the ball.

“His son played after for Monaghan. I used to be watching the papers.”

The past was a looser country. Lohan was even selected to play for Monaghan in the Ulster Championship (“Against Armagh, I think”).

Most of these stories remain diamonds underground, buried in yellowed newsprint, initials, borrowed names. The Monaghan adventure proceeded while Lohan was hurling away with Cappataggle, footballing away with St Gabriel’s.

Frank asks: “Didn’t the secretary of Inniskeen write to you after the 1995 All Ireland, to congratulate us?” His father nods: “Yes, he did. Paddy O’Rourke, a lovely man. He was secretary of the club for 56 years.”

His son comes back: “I’d say there was plenty more of that stuff on your CV when you came to Clare? Didn’t you kick football back out West?”

The reference is to Lissycassy, his initial posting in the county, which arrived in 1963.

“I probably did,” his father replies, somewhere between nonchalant and amused.

1965 and the move to Newmarket on Fergus, emphatically hurling country. He was known about and he was approached. By autumn time, Gus Lohan was centre-forward on the team that took that season’s senior title, their third one in a row.

He became centre back on the team that won another three in a row between 1967 and 1969. By 1971, he was so well established in the town as to captain that champion side. Their last triumph arrived in 1981, 13 senior titles in 19 seasons, Gus Lohan there for 11 of them.

He reflects further on his county move: “Another reason it wasn’t hard for me for me to go in with Clare was because there were so many Newmarket fellas involved in the county set up. I obviously knew a lot of the faces in either dressing room. Newmarket were so strong in that era. We won two Munster Club titles as well.”

For every sort of reason, 1968 launched him with Clare. Down the line, the Cappataggle full forward of 1962 became the Clare centre-forward of 1973 and ’74. He scored a goal in three successive Munster games, which must be a rare enough distinction. Gus Lohan ended up hurling for Clare on every line of the field, save goal.

Frank smiles at this revelation, at hidden continuities. People wondered at him going up full-forward from corner-back at the latter end of his career. “Now I know at last where it came out of,” he says.

Gus Lohan stayed with Clare until 1977, centre-back on the side that beat Kilkenny in the NHL final, centre-back on the team devastatingly beaten by Cork in the Munster final. But he is not a man much given to heartbreak.

I ask about the aftermath to that defeat, which haunted Clare hurling until his sons were in a Clare jersey. He is phlegmatic:

“There wasn’t a lot of winning with Clare. So I’m not sure 1977 and the Munster final was that big of a surprise. Cork were always very hard to beat.”

All the while, life off the field had been finding a permanent shape. Gus Lohan married Brede O’Halloran, a Limerick native, in 1968.

By 1971, when he captained Newmarket, they had built a house at Tullyglass in Shannon, part of Newmarket on Fergus parish at that time. He started kicking football with Wolfe Tones Na Sionna, a local club founded in 1967. A new course was being set.

Fr Solon’s example found fertile ground in transplanted soil. 1979 saw Gus Lohan became a much-admired treasurer with Newmarket. He later took on similar fundraising roles within Wolfe Tones and became immersed in Community Games teams, where Brian (born in 1971) and Frank (born in 1974) first found their feet.

“We just enjoyed it,” their father says. “There were an awful lot of games, and we cleaned the boards in some years.”

No one knows what will happen in sport. April 15, 1992 made Frank Lohan full-back with the Clare minors, losers to Waterford by 1-10 to 0-5. “I’d say I was on Paul Flynn,” Frank notes. “I wouldn’t have had a good hour there.”

Twenty three days later, Brian Lohan hurled full-back with the Clare U21s, winners over Limerick by 0-20 to 1-3. Something was beginning but no one knew what it was.

These Lohan lads from Shannon, who were they? Are they brothers? Sure, they are Gus’ sons and Gus hurled a lot with Clare, and he would have been there for the league Finals in ’77 and ’78.

Was he still there in ’78, people would have asked each other? They were heading home, disappointed after the minors, delighted after the U21s. Was not Gus a guard who had come into Newmarket at the right time?

No one knows what will happen. The first draft of hurling history is not newsprint but the mixture of faulty and exact recall as supporters walk out a gate, wondering about new fellas.

Three seasons later, Clare were All-Ireland champions for the first time in 81 years. Frank Lohan had become this tremendous corner-back, unbelievably agile for a hurler so upright in stride.

As for the brother… Brian Lohan’s efforts at full-back still imprint everyone’s memories of 1990s hurling. So crouched, so low to the ground, driving out with a ball, like a pirate wheeling down a burning deck with a knife between his teeth. The elder Lohan redefined his position.

“I never found it hard watching the lads with Clare,” their father holds. “I had been watching them hurling since they were six and seven. A game is a game.”

Gus Lohan remains happy his native sinews stretched but never snapped. “I always kept in touch with home,” he says. “Went up and down over the years for various events. I don’t think I ever became a stranger.”

Former Clare hurler Frank Lohan with his dad, the former Clare and Galway hurler, Gus Lohan. Picture: Don Moloney/ Press 22.

The man is still the child who fed on Vincent Kenny’s stories.

There came local pride in his sons, off down in Shannon. “They were conscious of it at home,” he allows. “Any time the lads were in a big game with Clare in Croke Park, they would put out a terror of flags around Cappataggle.”

Then the trademark wryness: “Unless they were playing Galway, of course.”

This afternoon, Clare and Galway are back in Croke Park. Where do ultimate loyalties lie for a Cappataggle man in Shannon?

“I’m easy,” he says. “It’ll be a result.” Frank Lohan is the life in reverse. Galway to Clare and Clare to Galway.

What songs exist about these swerves? Such moves contain far more wryness than sorrow. And what is a song without sorrow?

Along the way, Frank Lohan met Michelle, native of Spiddal, and settled in Oranmore. The Lohans have three boys, a nine-year-old and twins of seven.

Their sister is 15 months old. These last years, he has been working hard in the local club, Oranmore-Maree. Gearóid McInerney and Niall Burke are the heroes.

The Clare man in Galway is buoyant about the weekend: “Heading up to Croke Park, there will be a lot of maroon jerseys in the car. I suppose I’ll be happy, one way or the other, even if only by osmosis!”

We are sitting in planed sunshine, residual heatwave. This restaurant was a lucky choice, because the Shannon, wide and shallow and breezy, is running behind us.

I am enjoying Frank Lohan enjoying his father and the talk comes back to positions on the field, the relevant merits of playing here and playing there. The younger son used to get teased about only being a man for the corner.

Then the father’s low key trump, slid to table: “I only went in corner-back when I was injured.”


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