Lahinch in August 1965 was much like Lahinch is now at this time of year: blustery. Wilder as the day developed.
So when Cooraclare manufactured a 12-point lead over Miltown Malbay early in the second-half, having enjoyed the breeze at the backs in the earlier period, they weren’t considering they were home and hosed. Playing into the Castle golf course goalmouth was like trying to roll a boulder up a hill.
Current Clare president Tadhg Murphy lined out for Cooraclare that day. “They got two goals and with 10 minutes or so to go we were only two points ahead and Miltown had all the pressure but they scored nothing for the rest of the game. In a way, we were lucky to hold out.
“Batten down the hatches” is how the newspapers described Cooraclare’s rearguard actions.
Miltown’s Paddy Mahony was at the heart of his side’s fightback but the damage had ultimately been done with Brother Michael O’Donoghue leading the charge for Cooraclare.
Murphy’s team-mate that day P J McGuane, now a Munster Council delegate for Clare, recalls his stand-out display.
“He was the difference between the winning and losing that day. He was based in Cork and they tried to snare him on a couple of occasions. He won Cork championships. His distribution to our lively forwards was what stood out. Our defence was good too and they were a lot of great individual battles that day.
“A man from Kilrush who knew his football met my father John walking out of the game that day and said if Milltown had Mickey O’Donoghue they would have won. It was a fair assessment. Brother O’Donoghue was the winner. He was a genius, a mighty man for the team. Unfortunately, he didn’t play often enough for us.”
For some in Cooraclare, if not necessarily those on the field, the final was a chance to settle old scores against Miltown. Six years previous, the clubs had fallen out about the scheduling of their final replay.
“There was a problem in 1959 about the playing of it but that was all forgotten,” explains Murphy. “It wasn’t among the players anyway. The county board fixed the replay for the following Sunday and Cooraclare wanted another week but the board went ahead with it. Miltown turned up but Cooraclare didn’t and it was awarded to Miltown.
“Cooraclare objected to the county board and lost it but they appealed to the Munster Council and a replay was ordered and Miltown won it well.
“The relationship would have been good otherwise between the clubs. Even when we won it in ’56, I could say that everybody were happy that when they were beaten, they were beaten by Cooraclare. If it was another team like Kilrush they might begrudge it!”
McGuane agrees: “Some of those guys are our best friends to this day. When they celebrated their 50-year celebration of ’59 we were invited to it. Sadly, a number of the men are now dead.” Just two of the Cooraclare team — O’Donoghue and Michael Garry — have since passed away.
One thing’s for certain: a Cooraclare win tomorrow would be greeted with much more fanfare by the players than 50 years ago.
“The older people really enjoyed it,” says McGuane. “The win was for them. I know I sat into my car and went home to milk the cows. My father didn’t! Neither did any of the old men in the area. Our celebration was winning the game. It was a tradition for the older people in the parish to enjoy it and they usually did for a week afterwards.
“Tadhg probably drove back to Dublin or wherever he was working at the time. That was true for a lot of the out-of-town players. There was no after game dinner, there was no such thing as gear. Nonetheless, our pride was not diminished. We were representing the people of the parish and those that went before them.”
Two county final appearances have since followed for Cooraclare, the last coming in ’97, both of which they won. But that 100% record is no badge of honour in the village.
As McGuane says, “What bugs me is, as a committed GAA person, we have only been in three county finals in 50 years, which isn’t good enough bearing in mind the talent that had gone through this parish. We have to make good use of it now in the final. Talent is only related to what you get out of it.”
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