Grocer Mike Treacy is all smiles: “We’re the last outpost of County Clare”, he proudly boasts. But there was a time stretching back to the late 1800s when Whitegate wasn’t even part of the Banner make-up, a redrawing of the local boundaries forcing the club hurlers across the border and into Galway’s championship, if only for a brief spell.
Indeed, heading north out of the village along the R352, Whitegate’s proximity to the Tribes county is self-evident. At one end of the long stretch of road flutter a multitude of saffron and blue flags, replaced down the line by the maroon and white, the ‘Good Luck Brendan’ signs traded for ‘Best wishes Cathal’ – Tommie Larkins’ ’keeper Cathal Tuohy set to stand between the sticks for Sunday’s minor decider.
“We are someway removed from the hurling heartland of the county,” continued Treacy, “but with Brendan involved there is a great buzz about the place.”
Bugler debuted in the Clare jersey in 2007, the first Whitegate hurler to represent the county at senior level since Enda Morrissey in the late 90’s — Morrissey’s brief spell on the panel bridging to the gap to Naoise Jordan in the 60’s.
With no more than 600 houses dotted around Whitegate and Mountshannon, is it little wonder the club have contributed so fleetingly to the inter-county set-up.
“Our playing numbers have always been small,” stressed club secretary Tony O’Rourke. “We need to make sure everyone is playing, we can’t afford to turn away anyone. We would only have two lads at U13 level and two or three who are on the age of minor. You would always be going down to the 14-year old lads to play minor that is why we can’t compete in the top level.”
“We would field an Intermediate and Junior team, but there would be a massive overlap,” added chairman David Solon. “If the intermediate team would be struggling with even just an injury or two, the junior team would be drained awful quickly. That is just the way it is.
“We won a county U21 in 1972 and were beaten in the ’73 and ’74 finals, but instead of going on to contest for senior honours, the vast majority of that panel emigrated. The likes of Mickey Burke, Noel Burke and many more headed for England. There was another mass exodus in the 1980’s and more recently also.
“At the start of last year, six of the panel emigrated. As a result, in the Junior B championship we had to give a walkover because of the lack of playing numbers, it was the first time to my knowledge the club conceded a championship match.”
Given their minute playing pool, both men take massive pride in the scattering of individuals from the parish who have represented Clare at the top table.
Bugler, of course, is the standout name, but Solon points to a picture hanging on the clubhouse wall — the Clare hurling team of the millennium. At corner forward is their very own Naoise Jordan.
“He was deceptively small was Naoise. In those days the jerseys would have been very big, not fitted like today, and sure Naoise’s would have come down to his knees. We had no-one on the 1995 or 1997 teams, so it would be terrific to have an All-Ireland medal in the club on Sunday evening.”