HORTLY after Brian Lohan’s appointment as Clare senior hurling manager at the end of October 2019, he and his selectors met with county secretary Pat Fitzgerald and then chairman Joe Cooney.
It’s Sunday, July 25, the sun is splitting the stones in Killarney. Cork and Kerry fans are sampling all the hostelries have to offer al fresco with big screens ready to show the town’s first Munster SFC final in four years.
Yet traipse to the top of Lewis Road and the scene couldn't be starker, the event they have all gathered for is sterile, the stand and terraces all but vacant.
The thousands among the 32,000 crowd who turned up early in Fitzgerald Stadium to watch David Clifford work his magic in the provincial minor final four years ago would dearly love to see David Clifford in his first Munster SFC decider on home soil.
And oh how the travelling Cork folk would like to be able to say they were in the stadium the day they broke their championship duck in Killarney going back to 1995. If anything could top Mark Keane’s last-gasp goal last November, that would be it.
Of course, reigning champions Tipperary, a Clare team who are in their fifth straight season in Division 2, and a vastly improving Limerick will have something to say about this scenario becoming a reality. Yet it is the most probable one and how downright absurd it will be to have the game’s atmosphere transferred downtown. Like Con Houlihan famously wrote: “I missed Italia '90. I was in Italy.”
The GAA are extremely cautious about the idea of crowds returning for games this year but with each and every vaccination, the demand for admission will increase.
Having been drawn against each other in the Munster SHC quarter-final five times in 10 seasons (2009-17), Cork and Tipperary must be wondering what has happened after being handed separate semi-finals for the second year in a row.
Then again, on all five occasions the winners reached the final - Tipperary went all the way the three times they beat Cork while the Rebels won the 2017 Munster title and lost to Waterford in the 2010 decider.
But before Limerick went all the way after beating Clare first day out last year, they hadn’t won Munster from the quarter-final stage since 1996. Waterford previously progressed through all three stages of the competition in 2004 while Clare last achieved the feat in 1997 when Kerry were part of the competition.
For the second time in seven months, Clare will have to win three games in a short space of time to end a wait that now goes back 23 years. Trying to ascertain who got the shorter end of the stick, Brian Lohan's side or the county’s footballers who face Kerry yet again, is a tough one.
The beauty of the Munster senior hurling championship is its natural competitiveness but perhaps provincial chiefs could follow the lead of their Ulster counterpart who created a football preliminary round bye for counties drawn at that stage in the previous two seasons. In what is likely to be the last knock-out Munster SHC, something similar could have been extended to Clare.