‘He had a Tipp hat in one hand and a can of cider in the other and was giving the V sign...’

These days, Niall Gilligan and Eamonn Corcoran find themselves in similar social circles - Gilligan is an auctioneer in his native Sixmilebridge while Corcoran is Head of Bank of Ireland for Clare.

‘He had a Tipp hat in one hand and a can of cider in the other and was giving the V sign...’

These days, Niall Gilligan and Eamonn Corcoran find themselves in similar social circles - Gilligan is an auctioneer in his native Sixmilebridge while Corcoran is Head of Bank of Ireland for Clare. Twenty years ago though, they stood firmly against each other as Clare and Tipperary’s rivalry hit its peak in two Munster semi-final bouts

John Fogarty: Eamonn made his Championship debut in 1999 and Niall had been there for a couple of years. How did the tensions between the counties develop from the ‘97 matches?

Niall Gilligan: The rivalry had been building up a bit from ‘97 and ‘99 was my third year. The Championship draw then was made in November and from our point of view the League wasn’t a priority at all. We would have been training since the October or November before and the sole focus would have been the first game of the Championship, versus Tipp in Cork.

The manager was beating you with that the whole time and it heightened the rivalry. Adding on from ‘97 when Clare beat Tipp twice and coming home through Nenagh and beeping the cars, the Tipp people had nearly enough of it. Clare supporters enjoyed giving it to them. I can remember being in a nightclub in Nenagh in winter 1998...

Eamonn Corcoran: Maximus (nightclub).

NG:Yeah. Myself, Alan Markham, Mikey Russell and somebody else. Basically, we had to leave the place. It was serious at the time. The bouncers said we would be better off getting out because there were a few mad hurling heads looking for trouble. The rivalry was intense. There were big characters on each side - Leahy, Paul Shelly and on the Clare side you had Daly and Lohan and Fitzy.

The games in Cork, it was almost like going to a festival. Lads used to head down Saturday morning and not come home until Monday morning. Compare that to now when it’s week-on-week and there’s no chance to hype it up.

JF: Eamonn, how real was the rivalry to you?

EC: It took on a life of its own. I was a sub in the Munster final in ‘97, got dropped for the All-Ireland final and back then you could see it building with the characters. Clare were also taking it to another level with their fitness and you were hearing all these stories. When Nicky came in, he always said that (fitness) was the area where we needed to get ahead of Clare. We weren’t talking about Cork but Clare. I was on the terrace for the ‘97 All-Ireland final and you could feel the tension but the rivalry was probably at its highest in ‘99 and 2000.

JF: Was it the perfect All-Ireland in ‘97 beating Tipperary twice?

NG: It’s easy for me to say it was because I wasn’t there in ‘95 but there was still that thing from ‘95 that we had beaten Offaly, Galway, Limerick, Cork and that some people were saying ‘ye hadn’t beaten Tipp or Kilkenny’. To beat them the second time (Munster and All-Ireland finals) then rubber-stamped for a non-traditional hurling place like Clare the greatness of the team. And that was very important to the players, management and public at the time.

In Páirc Uí Chaoimh in ‘97, we would have our dinner in the Imperial Hotel and you’d walk up through the town and Clare supporters had just gone wild and they were really rubbing it into the Tipp supporters. Tension is probably the wrong word as it’s sport at the end of the day but it was pretty serious at the time. You’d be driving into the game on the bus and people did take it deadly seriously. I’ve a vision in my head to this day of being on the bus in ‘99 and a Tipp fella wearing the jersey and jeans, a Tipp hat in one hand and a can of cider in the other and just giving the V sign to the bus. There was just hatred in his face.

EC: I remember Clare fans banging the sides of the bus as we were coming in. “Slievenamon” would be played on the bus as we came up to the pitch but you’d nearly be shaking because they were hitting the sides. It was something of a different level.

JF: And all this started with the interpretation of a smile. Did Nicky English ever say much in ‘99 about what happened six years earlier?

EC: It was never spoken about. You’d have heard about it alright and Nicky coming in as manager probably added to the rivalry. We’d hear about Ger Loughnane putting the Tipp jersey up but people started to blow things up just to keep the rivalry on edge.

NG: Sure, Loughnane would have jumped on that as well. If there was anything like that…

EC: He’d throw it into the conversation. But Nicky, with his personality, wasn’t like that. He wouldn’t play on “we heard this and we heard that”. It wasn’t his style.

JF: How much did you let the rivalry motivate you?

EC: As a supporter, it’s different. When you’re young, you don’t overthink things. In my later years, I started to think more like a supporter and the importance of Tipp winning and I overthought things and my game. When you’re young, you go out with abandon and you just want to hurl. People are talking away but as get older you were getting more invested in what was being said.

NG: If Ger Loughane or Anthony Daly told you at the time that Nicky English did this or that and was a bad egg you’d take it on board. That’s part of good management but looking back now he (Loughnane) told us a few porkies.

EC: You are impressionable at that age.

NG: Loughnane was a brilliant manager but he lost control of the team - you could only say those things so much before lads saw it for what it was. A good few lads on that team, there was nobody to push them off and Ger Loughnane had used all his aces to drive them.

Are Clare’s Niall Gilligan, (left) and Tipp’s Liam Sheedy, seeing eye to eye in the Munster SHC clash in 1999? Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfil
Are Clare’s Niall Gilligan, (left) and Tipp’s Liam Sheedy, seeing eye to eye in the Munster SHC clash in 1999? Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfil

EC: You’d have heard the stories about the Clare supporters (hooting their car horns) passing Michael Cleary’s (shop in Nenagh) and as a young fella you’d be thinking ‘They’ve disrespected Michael Cleary”. Michael Cleary, Nicky English, John Leahy, Pat Fox, they were my heroes and you’d be wondering how they could do that to Michael Cleary when he’s a gentleman. You’d have been thinking Clare were disrespecting Nicky too about the smile, that he didn’t mean that.

NG: I was on the terrace in ‘93 and it was hard watching Clare getting hammered. I can remember a row between Clare and Tipp supporters closeby and the Tipp lads shouting, “Lock the gates and make them watch it.”

JF: Niall, in the drawn game, Liam Sheedy and yourself had a difference of opinion?

NG: (puzzled look).

EC (to NG): I was wing-back marking Jamesie and it was my first big Championship start and I didn’t know what was going on in the first five or 10 minutes. And Sheedy was marking you and there was a mark on the leg after awhile. I don’t know who let fly first - you or him? I remember thinking, “Jesus”.

NG: Ah yeah, it was carrying on from the ‘97 All-Ireland. I came out wing-forward in that game, got a point and was well pumped up and sure I gave him plenty of verbals and maybe a butt of the hurley as well. Eugene O’Neill got the goal to bring Tipp back level and he gave a bit back but that was that. I started marking him then in ‘99. The game started and he gave me a dunt or two off the ball.

I said to myself, “F this anyway, I’m going to be putting up with this for the day” so I waited for a ball to cross our goalmouth above and he was walking ahead of me and it was a dirty pull but it was an eye for an eye as he had hit me. I gave it to him in the back of the knee and I was making sure the referee was looking the other way. We were rolling around on the ground after that. I had forgotten about that. There was a bit of a shemozzle then.

EC: Yeah, we all got involved then.

JF: It was a fine game, otherwise.

EC: I’d never experienced anything as intense. When you ran out, the whole crowd were reacting. I was glad there was 20 minutes (before throw in) because you needed to catch your breath - you were running around like a headless chicken. The pace of the game was relentless. It was in-your-face hurling. It was nip and tuck the whole game. It’s very hard to remember moments from it other than Gilly and Sheedy and Davy coming up at the end and scoring the penalty.

NG: Somebody sent me a clip of it and it brought back a few memories. I’d often slag Jamesie (O’Connor) about it because I think it was Jamesie’s first goal ever in the Championship.

EC: I still get slagged about that too.

NG: I got the ball, drew in the full-back and passed it to him so I’d often say I made his first goal. The second goal, I hit it into Conor Clancy and he was brought down and Davy scored the penalty.

JF: Did Tipp ever think it was in the bag?

EC: It was only when the penalty was given that you realised if he scored it was going to be a draw. Davy stuck it and then laughed at us all the way down the field.

JF: But in the replay didn’t you hear Nicky’s pre-match speech from your dressing room? “What do you do with a wounded animal?"

NG: Ah, yeah. There are people from the outside believing this happened and that happened…

EC: Stuff goes on in the dressing room and you’d do anything to get players up for it. A lot of us were new to the Championship. I remember meeting Nicky for the first time and he put a blank piece of paper in front of us and said, “That’s my panel.” He brought in a huge amount of new blood and we had got so much up for the first game that mentally I don’t think we were ready to get back down whereas Clare had the experience. I was so flat for the second game. I felt we were naive.

NG: The favourite and the underdog, nine times out of 10 the favourite wins the next day because the mindset of the underdog is they’re happy with their performance whereas the favourite is going home disgusted with himself.

EC: Clare were hot favourites and we proved we could get up to their level but I don’t know, were we content with that? Mentally, a lot of us could have been weak. The underdog usually gets one shot to get over the line and we didn’t do that. We had to go up a notch for the replay but we probably didn’t realise that at the time. We learned an awful lot from it because Nicky used it a lot in 2000 and 2001 that we had been weak (in 99). The atmosphere was also different for the replay. The crowd weren’t up for it as much.

JF: Why didn’t it happen for Clare after that?

NG: Myself and David Forde came into the Clare team in ‘97 and without sounding whatever I’d have classed ourselves as All-Ireland contender inter-county hurlers. Alan Markham came on in ‘98 but nobody else was coming on. Look at the Kilkenny teams who won all those All-Irelands, there were two or three coming into the panel every year.

We also went to a replay against Galway in ‘99 and got over them in that too and then beaten by a better Kilkenny team. Anthony Daly and Liam Doyle, they were probably going the wrong side of 30. The panel wasn’t being kept as strong as it was.

Against Cork in the Munster final, there were probably lucky to get us. I’d often being critical of Ger Loughnane that no-one ever practiced frees for the Munster final. Whether he and his management were gone a bit complacent but there were things that were there four or five years.

I’ve often said about the Jimmy Cooney thing, would other counties have replayed it? But Loughnane’s motto was “we’ll beat them again” but there’s only so many times you can go to the well.

JF: The bitterness continued into the U21 Munster final in Ennis in August when a Declan Browne goal helped win it for Tipp. The rows during the game, the brawl at the final whistle. Both of you were at it?

NG: It was a mad match. The tension, there were hairs standing up on your neck the whole way through. Alan Markham scored a penalty before half-time and by God the place erupted. Then the scenes after the match, like, your mouth was open. (U21 coach) Davy and the Tipp sub goalie going at each other while the cup was being presented.

EC: I was on the terrace with a few of the lads and there was a Clare crowd around us and like we didn’t even shout for Tipp. It gave you a sense that there was something wrong.

NG: It had nearly gone.

EC: It had got to a level where it was getting a bit ridiculous and that probably was needed to give people a reality check that it was only a sport.

NG: There was 19,000 at that match.

JF: The 2008 U21 Munster final in Ennis was spicy too after the referee’s call to award Tipperary a winning 65 after Donal Tuohy stepped out of the square for a puck-out and Seamus Hennessy thanking the officials in his speech.

EC: We probably have never seen anything like that since, a goalie being pulled up for the puck-out and then Seamus’ speech. If that happened in ‘99, there would have been absolute mayhem.

NG: A riot. But hurling had changed. My first League game was against Tipp in ‘97 and it was on in Ennis and there was 18,000 on a Saturday evening.

Other games like Galway in that League, there was 18,000 and there were records set every week and then Limerick played Tipp inside in Limerick and there was 21,000.

EC: There were fewer matches. Now people pick and choose the games they go to but back then when the draw was made as a supporter you couldn’t wait for the first game. You were organising your whole weekend around it. If it was down in Cork, you were looking for accommodation - that was your holiday and you were taking the Monday off work.

JF: There’s another story about a Tipperary supporter taking exception to a team speech he heard Mike McNamara gave his players outside Semple Stadium in the late 2000s. Donal Moloney and Michael Ryan had an incident on the sideline last year. The rivalry is not what it was but there are still traces of powderkeg?

NG: There are but it now depends on how often they play each other.

EC: I’d have gone off playing Railway Cup under Mike Mac and I couldn’t believe how much of a gentleman he is.

Tony Considine too and you’d go off for a few pints with the Clare players and realise that they’re normal but in your head at the time all you were thinking was ‘These are the greatest shower of bolloxes ever”. Once you got to know them, you’d have the banter. As a supporter, you wouldn’t know that and you wanted to build up that we hated each other. Some people weren’t going to let it go.

NG: I used to hurl better in the early part of my career if I had a grudge. Whereas when I got older and if the ‘Bridge were in a county final it was to win it not to do it because we hate Clooney-Quin. But there was a bit of “those Tipp fuckers” early on.

JF: How do you see Sunday going?

NG: Tipperary have been very impressive the last two days and I’d find it hard to see Clare winning. Two things - Clare management will highlight to the players their good home record as a confidence booster and Cork, while they looked very good against Limerick and I’d put them down as All-Ireland contenders, their backs were all over the place against Tipp and there are a good few Tipp lads over 30 or hitting it. That was still young 20 years ago but today that’s nearly pushing on. That’s the only question mark for Tipp because they do look like All-Ireland contenders.

EC: We didn’t know what to expect from Tipp after the League and there was a lot of talk about their legs and the older lads. This belief and freedom is starting to come back.

To look at them now, Brendan Maher and Paudie Maher look fitter than ever. Sunday is going to a massive test because any time I came down to Cusack Park it was tough.

The crowd are in on top of you and I’d worry about the game. You would question how Cork played against us and Waterford had a man sent off but weren’t at the races. Sunday will really give us a sense of where Tipp will go in the Championship. The forwards are opening up teams but the backs are conceding too many frees.

NG: Cathal Barrett looks very good again.

EC: I thought he was outstanding. The way he attacks the ball, I think he gives huge confidence to (James) Barry. Liam is getting a lot out of them and I can just see them getting over the line in Ennis.

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