Kilmurry bid to keep home fires burning

KILMURRY-IBRICKANE nestles in the very heart of football-mad west Clare, a parish like so many others, with life revolving around the local GAA field.

They haven’t always had the best of times. Thee titles between 1963 and 1993 combined to provide the total contents of their senior football championship trophy cabinet by the turn of the century.

But things are changing. Two more titles have been added since 2002, and now, for the first time in their history, the club are on the eve of an All-Ireland club semi-final against Mayo champions Ballina Stephenites.

On each of those occasions, in 1963 and 1966 as player, in the later three titles as manager, Patrick O’Dwyer had been central to those celebrations, had felt the heat during the season, basked in the glow as the team made its triumphant way home.

“I remember as we approached The Hand, the entrance to the parish (five-cross junction a few miles from Milltown-Malbay, on the road back from Ennis), after winning in 93, you could see a massive bonfire up on the hill. It was hugely emotional, a long wait since 1966, there wasn’t a dry eye on the bus.”

Nodding agreement with Patrick was Gerard Talty, who made his debut as goalkeeper that memorable season. “It was fantastic,” he remembers, “we went from there to Mullagh, then on to Quilty, the two villages in the parish, and everywhere we went, we met the bonfires.”

Frankie Frawley should have been on that bus also, but wasn’t. “I played a lot of years for Kilmurry-Ibrickane, but I retired that year, took over the minors. I was too busy at work, didn’t have the time to train any more.”

This year they are the three-man team behind Kilmurry-Ibrickane’s All-Ireland club fairytale.

“I’ve been doing all the interviews,” says Patrick, “but these fella have shared the burden with me all through this campaign; in fact they have done as much of a management job as I’ve done.”

At the beginning of 2004, Eire Óg and Kilkee were seen as the two main contenders for county honours in Clare. By their own admission, Kilmurry-Ibrickane came through the soft side of the draw, should have been walloped in the county final by Eire Og. “We were eight points down at half-time, which went to nine shortly after the restart,” recalls Talty.

And then, down in the belly of what should have been a beaten team, something stirred. “That was the moment,” says O’Dwyer.

“It was from there that we really started to play football and we drew the game. In a paradoxical way, that gave us huge self-belief.”

Having won the replay, a meeting with Limerick champions Drom-Broadford awaited. Again they played possum in the first half before their second-half heroics. Milltown, Kingdom representatives, in lieu of South Kerry, fell in the semis up in Quilty.

It wasn’t their first progression to a Munster final. In 1993 and 2002 they reached the pinnacle of the province, losing each time, to Nemo Rangers.

“The 93 Nemo side were phenomenal, with three inter-county players on the bench,” says Talty, “they walloped us.”

“2002 was different,” pains O’Dwyer to recall. “That was probably the most unsatisfactory year. We met Nemo again, in Quilty that year, and ran them very close.”

“I got the feeling that day that, up to half-time, the players didn’t believe they could win it,” says Frawley. “It was only in the second half that they started to believe.”

All of this weighed heavily prior to the meeting with Waterford champions Stradbally. Maybe nerves played a part, but the first day finished in a draw. At the second attempt, Kilmurry-Ibrickane prevailed.

They will be underdogs against Ballina at Pearse Stadium in Galway tomorrow. But that tags acknowledges nothing of the work undertaken by men like Patrick Murrihy, who organised and co-ordinated the football effort in the five tiny local national schools, guys like Michael Bracken, Pat Comer, John Daly, administrators like Michael Carty, all of whom have combined to make Kilmurry-Ibrickane a powerhouse now, inside Clare.

The club has won three minor titles in succession, three U21’s in the last four years. There’s a guy on this team, 18-year-old Shane Hickey, started and finished all three finals this year, who hardly knows what it’s like to lose.

“His team has never been beaten, at local, provincial or national level,” Talty points out.

Off the field also, this club is highly organised. There is €15,000 in a holiday fund for the players, sums of €300, €500, and more coming in from small businesses, from individuals, all over the parish.

According to Ger, there won’t be a penny owed, when this is all over. The question is, when will it all be over?

This weekend? Or will those bonfires burn once more, higher and hotter than ever before?

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