Growing up, Eamonn Taaffe’s life was defined by difference. What made him as a Clare native this and what made them, those from over the Galway border that backs onto his family house, that.
The demarcation lines still hold true today in Tubber although there has been little in the way of hype about Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final. A sales representative with Roches Feeds and a veterinary company, his work sees him traverse the county boundaries several times during the week.
“It’s very quiet even though I was with a customer who said it would be like a death in the family if Galway beat us.”
During his playing career, Clare never played Galway enough as he would have liked. When they did square off in championship, he was either on the bench or injured. His hamstring injury just before the 1995 All-Ireland semi-final couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“I wasn’t togged because we went to Croke Park a week before we played Galway for a training session and I was just back into a bit of fitness because I had problems with my hamstring. Above that day, we played a bit of a game and didn’t I tear my hamstring again. I came home on the bus sitting on one cheek. I didn’t tog out. I was with them but I was showing enough to believe I could have been coming off the bench and it would have been nice to come on against Galway.”
His memories of their two All-Ireland quarter-final battles in 1999 are vague. He accepts they would be clearer had he played but the sensation of beating them never left him. “I was talking to Brendan Gantley today and I suppose it’s always there. You always throw the dirty one at them. You’d always be hoping you come out on the right side.”
All of Taaffe’s formative hurling was played in Galway. First, in Lurga National School, two kilometres from Tubber. Ollie Fahy would have been a school friend but that’s where their kinship started and ended.
“I can still remember Steve Mahon, Finbarr Gantley, Sylvie Linnane bringing the Liam MacCarthy Cup to the school and there were maybe three or four families from the Clare side at the school but we were stuck down the back hiding. There was a bit of arrogance about them and we were only hoping our day would come and it came.” After Lurga, it was Our Lady’s College, Gort for Taaffe. There his “Clareness” became more pronounced. “We were always Claremen. We were hurling with our parish in Tubber. I remember Finbarr Gantley hurled for Tubber and Crusheen and I think he has a minor “B” medal with Crusheen and he’s a Galway man. But for me there was never a chance of going the other way. In secondary school, we always made sure we had our Clare jerseys just to show we were on the other side of the border.”
When Taaffe famously seized on David Hughes’ batted clearance to goal for Clare in 1995, the Galway folk needed no invitation to remind him of his hurling education. “You would have always got bits and pieces — ‘Sure, it was we that made you. You did all your hurling in school in Galway and now you’re off to Clare.’ It would still be mentioned every now and again because I would meet a lot of Galway people.”
Now manager of Tubber, Taaffe knows a thing or two about Galway hurling what with organising so many challenges against clubs from there. “Whatever is in it and I don’t know whether they’re bringing enough of it through to their county team but definitely on the club scene it’s strong and physical hurling where on the Clare side we don’t see as much of that.”
The talent in the Clare set-up amazes him to the extent that he feels they should be doing a lot more. “We have gone through a bit of dull period where we have players we think should be winning more silverware so winning a league was very important for Davy (Fitzgerald) and the players. From my point of view, we have a special bunch and maybe they have under-achieved a small bit. The league was an important one but it’s a long way behind winning a Munster championship or an All-Ireland.”
Rather than tactics answer for them, Taaffe would prefer to see the players let their hurling do the talking against Galway. “Davy knows more about it than I do but I would still love to see 15 on 15 and let Clare hurl. Maybe there is a bit too much pressure on full-forward line because when there are three defenders there on top of two men you’re not going to come out on the right side most of the time. Galway and Micheál O’Donoghue have points to prove because they’ve got a lot of stick already. They’ll have their gander up.
“There is pressure on both teams. I’m expecting a good high-scoring, open game and that Clare come out on top.”
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