It was the summer of 2005, when Cratloe’s footballers first announced themselves on the local scene.
The club executive, after much canvassing, convinced Bord na nÓg to grant Cratloe’s U14 side a seat at the top table.
Determined to prove their worth, determined to prove wrong the traditionalists of West Clare, the team marched all the way to the final of the Féile and championship competitions. Both ended in defeat. It didn’t matter. They had made their point.
Before the summer was out, the club’s U16 team, led by Sean Collins and Liam Markham, annexed the county title at the expense of Kilmurry Ibrickane. The result went against natural order.
The victory was dismissed as a once-off. The club carried no football tradition, and so the likes of Collins and Markham would eventually dispense with their gloves in favour of the hurley and sliotar. Hurling was what they did best.
In 2007, Cratloe reached a third consecutive U16 football decider. The game against St Joseph’s Doora Barefield was a repeat of the 2005 Féile final. With Podge Collins proving impenetrable in the sweeper role, Cratloe carried the day. Further football silverware.
In his acceptance speech, Conor Ryan paid tribute to one Colm Collins for the countless hours of work he had put into building this team. Collins’ aim was not that football would become the dominant code in the club, but that both codes would stand alongside one another.
Minor (2008) and U21 titles (2009 and ’11) followed. A footballing outpost in a hurling heartland stood Cratloe.
In an interview last year, Conor McGrath credited Collins Senior with sole responsibility for developing football in the village.
“Traditionally, Cratloe would have been much more of a hurling club. In recent years, Colm Collins, father of Seán and Podge, has developed football no end. We’ve become much more competitive as a result,” he said.
‘Competitive’ defined their status at senior level. The breakthrough they simply could not make. Drawn against Kilmurry Ibrickane summer after summer, they rarely featured at the business end.
In 2013, further shots were fired in the Cratloe revolution. Kilmurry Ibrickane gunned down.
“That result kind of opened up the championship for a lot of clubs, and a lot of the football clubs now felt they had a chance of winning,” continued McGrath.
Cratloe ended the year as county champions, Colm Collins again at the helm.
“Football is my dad’s big thing so to win a county title with him over us is huge to me and my two brothers,” Podge Collins enthused after the victory over Doonbeg.
“He [Colm] grew up in Kilmihil, football country, back in West Clare. He won a county championship in 1980 so it is nice to win one ourselves with him as a manager. Our house is now as happy as it could be.”
Tomorrow, Cratloe will attempt to string back-to-back football titles. Some 13 of the panel from last weekend’s hurling final win are chasing the double, a feat last achieved in 1929. Of the starting team which lined out against Crusheen, 10 will step back inside Cusack Park’s whitewash for a second time in eight days.
“I don’t think the set-up we have is reflected in any other club,” insists Conor Ryan.
“Huge credit has to be given to the people who allow us manage both codes week in, week out. We are blessed to have the people we have driving this club. Without them this opportunity, the double, would not be possible.”
Ryan’s sentiment is shared and expanded by football manager Collins.
“When people look at our success, they immediately focus on the two set-ups, the backroom teams of both the hurling and football. It runs much deeper in Cratloe. It comes from the stalwarts of the club, those in the background of the club. These guys have been positive from day one with regard to keeping both shows on the road and having the same players driving both shows. We are a unified club.
“There has never been that acrimony that you can have. Previous chairmen have been excellent, men like Jack Chaplin and Pakie O’Gorman, and our current chairman John Ryan too. People who have been involved in the club, Jim Enright and Niall Considine, and even just those in the parish who follow this team and are interested in the club, it is always positive. There has never been anything but support for the split focus in our club. There has never been any kind of sniping. There has never been any of the kind of stuff that sometimes goes on. That’s where the foundations for all this is being laid.
“Joe McGrath and I, we basically implement the ethos of the club and that ethos was brought about long before we were here. Next weekend is the culmination of all this. When you are winning, it feeds positivity into the whole attitude of the players. I find after they play hurling, they are very fresh, they are looking forward to playing football. You can’t buy that, players being fresh and having this insatiable appetite for the game.”
Said attitude and, indeed, appetite was captured by Sean Collins following last Sunday’s win.
“We will go back to the pool, get some dinner. There will be very little celebrating done. Football is of the same importance as hurling in this club. Gaelic Games is everything to this group of players. It is our lives really. It is all we want to do.”
“There was never any doubt about the way they would behave,” continues Collins Senior. “There was never any need to put out a text or an order telling them to watch themselves. They are a super bunch of players. They didn’t let anyone down on Sunday night. They were already very focused on the next job.”
As to their standing as a footballing outpost in hurling country.
“People who settled here with a footballing background got it off the ground, bringing teams to West Clare to play football in underage blitzes and what not.
“We started fielding underage teams in A competitions and suddenly realised we were just as good as what was out there, that we can have a go at this.
“We were lucky in that we were drawn against Kilmurry Ibrickane on numerous occasions in the senior championship. They were an excellent team and showed us what we had to do to get to the top. The lessons we learned from them, for we did get a few hard lesson off them, are invaluable now. Long may this run continue.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved