Cusack Park, no different to any GAA ground, has played host to its fair share of hair-raising encounters, its catalogue of incidents replicated the country over; rows and controversies, thrown in with equal measures of ecstasy and heartache.
Retired caretaker Martin Flanagan prefers to put the games to one side for a second however, focusing instead on the characters who dominated the subplot of his adopted home.
Two or three names roll of the tongue.
“The first manager I had any real contact with was John Maughan,” recalls Flanagan. “He was a very tough man to train, a great physical trainer. There was a terrific buzz in 1992 and he made the players believe in themselves.”
Contrary to popular opinion, Flanagan remembers Maughan as a refined figure: “He wasn’t loud at all.”
Ger Loughnane, however, now that was a different kettle of fish altogether.
“Ger had his own ideas about training,” laughs Flanagan, who served as the grounds caretaker for 22 years. “The training matches they had were as good as any inter-county match. The games had a savage intensity and there was nothing spared between the players.”
More than once, Loughnane requested Flanagan lock the gates of Cusack Park to allow for a closed session.
“If people get into a training session you know what they’re like, they think it is a match and begin to shout out at the players. Ger wanted the players to be fully focused.”
For passion alone, you imagine it would be difficult to supersede the likes of Maughan and Loughnane, but he claims neither held a candle to the late Páidí Ó Sé.
“Páidí was a great character, very easy to talk to. He kicked every ball that was being kicked. He was ready for action all the time.”
Given his retirement two years ago, Flanagan is not around to witness the current Clare hurling boss in full flight. As a player, however, the Ruan native remembers all too well the antics of the goalkeeping “action man”.
“During the 90s Davy [Fitzgerald] was always the second man out the tunnel here. Anthony Daly would be first out and then Davy would be second, he’d run down to the nearest goal and he’d hit a ferocious whack of the post with the hurley. You’d know he was ready for action then.”
Away from the characters and returning to the field of play, two games are etched in the memory bank, albeit for hugely contrasting reasons.
Seven years ago the football enthusiasts of Roscommon, and there were many of them, laid siege to Cusack Park for the replay of the All-Ireland minor football final against Kerry. There were 15,000 supporters crammed into the ground and when the result went the way of the westerners, Ennis erupted.
“There was a massive Roscommon following here that evening, they were coming from everywhere and the celebrations afterwards were unbelievable.”
Fast forward two years where scenes of a very different nature embroiled Cusack Park. The Banner were poised to secure a first Munster U21 hurling crown, but when an umpire adjudged the Banner keeper to have stepped outside the parallelogram with a puck-out approaching the death, Tipperary were awarded a 65 that decided the outcome.
“The atmosphere was very sour after that game,” said Flanagan. “There was a lot of tension. I made sure the dressing rooms were open so the teams could get in as soon as possible.
“When the crowd gets onto a pitch they are liable to do anything. Thankfully nothing happened going down the tunnel.”
More often than not, Flanagan is the last person out of the ground they day of a game. Not always the case, however.
“One evening after a game I got a phone call from Pat Fitzgerald to say one of the journalists was locked up in the press box.
“I live about four miles away so I came straight back in and Therese O’Callaghan was inside the gate when I returned. She was typing her report and I hadn’t seen her before I left. There was always something happening!”
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