Twenty years ago, there were the three shadowy priests who, it was claimed, had knowledge of Colin Lynch’s suspension before the Munster Council had even met to decide his faith. In Liam Doyle, Seánie McMahon, and Anthony Daly, meanwhile, Clare had the three wise kings, forming one of hurling’s greatest half-back lines. Two decades on from the Banner’s last Munster SHC success and the All-Ireland title that got away, the trio recall that tumultuous summer of ’98, from Lynch’s ban to Jimmy Cooney’s bad time-keeping.
John Fogarty: Twenty years on, how does that season and Clare’s last Munster SHC success sit with you?
Liam Doyle: The three-game saga with Offaly is what sticks out the most. My one disappointment is that we could have participated in another All-Ireland final.
Anthony Daly: We were in it, sure. For about four hours!
LD: And the pints were for four hours too!
AD: Your man (Ger Loughnane) saying, “Get up to bed, you’re playing again next week”.
JF: Long before all that, there was a league semi-final against Cork, where Clare were accused of taking a fall knowing you had to play them again in Munster.
Seánie McMahon: That was always the story when we lost a league game, that we trained savage that morning. We never, ever trained the morning of a game. We probably fed off a lot from Loughnane and it wasn’t a case of ‘lads, don’t win today’ but we didn’t have that extra bit of drive. Around about that time, the league was gone nearly crazy. All the games were savage and we probably came to the realisation that the league wasn’t the be-all and end-all. I always felt when you won an All-Ireland, winning the league after that didn’t matter. The priority for us was always the first round in Munster against Cork. We were well beaten, we didn’t go out to play badly but it wasn’t a goal.
AD: The booze-up in Liscannor was good that Sunday.
JF: Was that the last of the drink before facing Cork again?
AD: That was it. We swore to a man that nobody would have another until then. When you think of it now, they’re banning them (from alcohol) for eight months
AD: I remember coming back to Power’s (in Clarecastle) but I don’t remember much of the match, really. I do remember coming back and meeting an awful sound fella from Clarecastle, Peter Cosgrove. A dead-on GAA fan, a Clarecastle fan, a Clare fan. He said to me, “Dalo, will you ever stop wasting my money? Will ya let me know when you’re not trying in these league matches? I’m after bringing the kids and the wife to Thurles and spent on petrol, grub, and a couple of pints — will ya ever just let us know so I could stay at home and wait for the Championship?”
I said, “Cossy, I didn’t realise we were off either! I was trying anyways!” Nobody was going out to play bad, like. He (Loughnane) didn’t ramp it up. He didn’t do what he would do the week of a Championship match, into the goalmouth and savage us all. He set the tone.
JF: It was an incredible summer in many ways, getting as many games (six) as Clare would hope to get this Championship. Did you feel unstoppable after winning Munster?
LD: After the first day against Waterford, you could say we were lucky to get a second day. We knew in training the following week, it was fairly rammed into us, that the replay wasn’t too far off being an All-Ireland final. We were told that we had to stand up and be counted.
JF: How much did Ger protect the players from the controversies, deflect like Jose Mourinho?
SM: The thing got so big it wasn’t a case of protecting the players; it was all around us. You couldn’t avoid it, really. I always remember the Friday night before the first game against Offaly, the night that (Colin) Lynch got the three-month suspension. I didn’t sleep a wink that night, I was so mad. We were all of the view that we were being hard done by. You couldn’t avoid that. I would feel that year we played our best hurling and had we got to the final there was no possibility that we wouldn’t have won it; Kilkenny weren’t that great anyway. We were a small bit hit and miss. I remember saying to you (nods to Daly) after the first Waterford game that I wasn’t anyway nervous or anxious and that was maybe because we were a bit flat having been so up for the Cork game. That was the way we were, Jekyll and Hyde, but back up for the second Waterford game. We had injuries and suspensions for the Offaly games.
LD: I still regret to this day that I played but… I tore ligaments in my ankle in the replay. Brian Lohan was missing too (having been sent off in the replay against Waterford) but when Colin got suspended… I had a fitness test where we met up beforehand and I got the go-ahead. But I regret playing because I didn’t give myself enough time to recover.
JF: Jamesie O’Connor spoke before about the off-field developments sapping energy — did they?
AD: Everybody is different. Personally, it didn’t bother me. I never got off on that sort of stuff. I was fucking loving it when everybody was yapping about us. But as a unit, there’s no doubt it was a huge distraction. I also remember that Friday night of the meeting in Limerick. It came on the late news, I was sitting at home with the mother, and “There’s Mikey Palmer,” I says. He was working with Lynch’s crowd, Lynch’s father doing the coal and the briquettes. A big Clare crowd had gone into the Limerick Inn. Then it was (erroneously) said Lynch’s grandmother was dead to make it worse. I was a bit distracted going to bed that night. I felt more for Colin than anything else because we were all wired for that replay against Waterford. Okay, he let rip but the punishment was miles beyond the crime.
SM: It was when you consider (Michael) Duignan drew straight (across David Forde). It (Lynch’s ban) was the greatest disappointment. Whatever happened happened but who was giving the evidence was fairly ridiculous.
AD: Sure, even Jimmy Cooney said it himself — and I’ve nothing against Jimmy Cooney for blowing the whistle, that was a mistake — but he said he would ruin the game if he sent off Michael Duignan we were so far ahead. Who gives you the right not to ruin the game?
SM: That was caught on the telly afterwards. Lynch’s thing was totally post the match. We all have the best of time for Duignan but where was the parity?
AD: It was for Colin more than ourselves. We had a good panel and fellas were going well in training and the likes of Rusty (Christy Chaplin) could come in and do a job, no bother, but he was a huge loss. It was for him as a person that we felt for him; he had given up so much for hurling. You couldn’t be at training before Lynch. If you were there at 5.50pm for 7pm training, he’d be there out on the field.
JF: When you hear Seán Kelly, then Munster Council chairman, expressing regret about Lynch’s suspension on the RTÉ Scannal documentary about Clare’s 1998, does it ring hollow?
LD: I only saw the documentary on YouTube three weeks ago. It probably does (ring hollow). Dalo said it affected players differently and he’s right. Who decided to bring Lynch to court? You can say that because it was so much in the media. In that way, it would be disappointing because he was no doubt a loss to us with the amount of energy he gave us and the amount of ground he’d cover. I would have been covering the two boys anyway but he’d give me a hand-out at times. Colin took it to another level from his own personal preparations.
AD: Thank God, there wasn’t social media back then. It would have been another day’s work. Around the time of the documentary, Christy O’Connor and myself were going down to the Munster club final and Seán Kelly was going in the same gate as us. We got chatting but I said: “We won’t mention ’98. At least you came to (Munster) medals presentation afterwards”.
He said: “We got that one a bit wrong alright.”
JF: How did Colin take it at the time?
SM: Lynch would be a man’s man, like. He wouldn’t have let on. He was disappointed but he wasn’t going around crying. He would still have been thinking of the team. He still trained. There was always the talk he might get back on an appeal and a deal being done for the third (Offaly) match.
JF: The group must have felt like they broke a mirror with all the bad luck you had.
AD: As Seánie said, we were becoming Jekyll and Hyde in our performances. We were wired for Cork, jumping the wire out on the field. Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Dr Con (Murphy) and Jim Cashman were there in a huddle and I screamed: “Get out of my fucking way!”. They moved and Dr Con told me years later that he said to Jimmy: “We’re in trouble here, boy”.
Then in the first Waterford game because we had the better of them most of the time and hadn’t played them much in Championship there was a feeling we were hot favourites as All-Ireland champions. We were down for it, ramped it up for the replay then down again for the first day against Offaly.
It lingered into ’99 as well when we were poxed to get a draw against Tipp but like lunatics in the replay. It was the way Ger managed as well, it was all duck or no dinner. You were either psyched out of your head or flat and we were great at flat. At the same time, it seemed like they (officials) were going to stop us whatever way they can. We were using that in training. It was probably how we got such a good performance out of ourselves the second day against Offaly. Like Seánie said, I don’t think there would have been any fear of us in a final.
LD: The second day against Offaly, we shouldn’t have put ourselves in that position — we were 10 points up.
AD: But we still didn’t lose it — we were three points up.
SM: We would never have lost that game. We had ridden the tide. There’s no way I would have ever seen us losing the game at that stage and we would have seen it out until the end.
JF: Have any of you met Jimmy Cooney over the years?
AD: No. I did a thing on Newstalk with Duignan about it and he said he had met him at the Galway Races. Duignan had abused the shit out of him at the final whistle for blowing it up early but I said to him he should have been coming from the stand to do it! What can you do about it at this stage? I wouldn’t say anything to him.
SM: He made a genuine mistake.
LD: The one thing about that time was the stewards came in so quick. He didn’t have time to make up his mind, like.
JF: You say you were wired but was it a case of going overboard with the siege mentality?
LD: Colin’s suspension was on the news around the clock but we had to stay focused. We had to try and keep it out of our minds as much as possible.
AD: With hindsight, the first thing we should have done was get out of Dublin first thing Monday morning. I still think we should have replayed it but we should have gone home to Clare and bought ourselves a couple of days and not go into the bowels of Croke Park the following morning. While that was going on, we were being ran around Belfield. It was all wrong to me. We should have been out in the Forty Foot having a swim, recovering.
SM: I missed that anyway (training session).
AD: I didn’t do it. “I’m not doing it, Mike (McNamara),” I said. (Imitating McNamara) “I’m surprised in you, you’re the fucking captain.” I told (Ollie) Baker not to do it as well — we were throwing a rugby ball to each other. Playing again the following week in Thurles, if you watch it again Stephen Byrne was man of the match in goal. (Brian) Quinno deserved a move off Joe Dooley; I’d have gladly gone back on Joe Dooley the third day at corner-back. I’d no fear of marking Joe Dooley; the fellas I was afraid of were the ones faster than me and Joe wouldn’t be faster than me. Quinno wasn’t flying, he wasn’t having a good game. He could have played at wing-back as handy or swapped with Frank (Lohan).
LD: He had sunstroke during the week.
AD: He was sick and said nothing. We didn’t play bad the third day and I still think we would have won if we had got out of Dublin, put the mockers on Offaly a bit. They knew on the Monday that they had a replay; they shouldn’t have known that until the Wednesday. This is all with the benefit of having 20 years to think about it.
LD: We probably could have even stuck it out an extra week.
AD: It seemed to me the rematch was arranged 12 hours afterwards. We could have gone to Lahinch for a swim, a meeting between ourselves. Loughnane wouldn’t give us much say in what we were doing but it would have been better. We would have turned the tables on Offaly. Like, it wasn’t our fault.
LD: Byrne made five saves.
AD: Danny Scanlan’s chance? Jaysus.
SM: Alan (Markham) had a couple of shots.
AD: We done enough to win the third game and it would have been sweet to win it that way. Nobody would have gotten more pleasure out of it than us that way. The real hard road.
JF: Did the board have your backs throughout the season?
AD: There was no board — there was Loughnane and that was it!
LD: We didn’t really take any notice. We were only thinking about the games and Ger was calling the shots. He probably consulted with Dalo but that was it.
AD: I remember when he came into the bar to tell us to go to bed and I told him that we’d play them again and we’ll beat them. Because I didn’t want winning an All-Ireland and people saying, “Ah, you didn’t really win that one”. We had a general feeling that way but what I said then was a rush of blood to the head. We should have bought a bit of time.
JF: The legacy of ’98 — when did you reconcile with it?
LD: I was at the All-Ireland final and I was saying to myself that we should be out there but we got back into the club championship. We were then back to the gym sessions with Clare where we might have been signing into the gym but going to the swimming pool instead. 1999 was a new beginning.
Obviously, you still think about it but at the time we had to move on.
SM: It finished very disappointingly but I wasn’t harping on about it the following January and February. There are games you win you should really lose and there are games you lose you shouldn’t lose and they balance out.
I would definitely put it down as an All-Ireland we should have won but then we could have lost in ’95 and ’97. We wouldn’t have deserved to (lose) but could’ve. You just get on with it and that’s not being ignorant about it.
AD: It was different for me because the night before the match my brother dropped dead in London. To tell you the truth, I was reconciled to it fairly quick. I was up in Dublin for the final and the following morning my phone — I had a mobile, which wasn’t common — kept ringing like a hand grenade beside the bed. My brother told me that Paschal was dead. That fairly put it to bed, to tell you the truth, because he probably would have been in my mother’s house — he came home for all the big games. His time was up, he had a heart attack and it put in context for me.
If you told the three of us that we would have won three Munsters and two All-Irelands we would have taken the hand off you.
A Kilkenny fella would probably be more bitter about it, looking for his eighth medal. We still felt we had a great chance in ’99 and I often feel we let that away more than ’98 because if we got over Kilkenny into a final against Cork having lost to them in the Munster final… I remember (Brian) Lohan jumping up on your (nods to McMahon) back for that high ball and leaving DJ (Carey) behind him. We felt there was another one in us.
SM: You’re not going to get it back.
AD: Your man (Loughnane) was so good, he had you thinking about ’99 already. That was his way. You park it but it’s later in life it gets you more that you should have won three.
JF: We’re 20 years on and talking about Clare’s last Munster title. It’s not a specific question but why hasn’t it happened since?
LD: It’s hard to put your finger on it but Munster has been competitive. When Clare won the U21 in 2009 and subsequent to that the three-in-a-row, in the last five or six years they should have won one or two with that group of players. I know they’re still going and their time may come this year or next year but they probably should have won the Munster final last year.
JF: With the U21s’ recent heavy defeat to Limerick, is there a genuine fear in you that this famine will be prolonged?
SM: Munster is so competitive that you need a lot right to win it. It’s not beyond this team to go and win it even though people are writing them off. Their performances will have to improve on what’s been there the last three or four years.
AD: You would be worried watching the U21s. I’d know from being with Limerick that they’ve been in the gym since 15. They’re following their programmes strictly and we’re only catching up now. If somebody told us that when the ribbons went up over Drumcondra when Pat Donnellan lifted the cup in 2013 that we wouldn’t be back there until 2018… I think any of us would have our mortgage on that we would back soon enough. We won the U21s the following year. Maybe they kind of got that All-Ireland too soon in their own development. We’ve won four of them so we’re not going to give it back but it came quick even though the talent was coming. I was in charge and we didn’t win a Munster but we were in Croke Park five times in the three years. Quarter-finals were in Croker, which was a help, but we were in two semis. We couldn’t get any sense that now in 2018 we would still have no Munster and even no All-Ireland final appearance since. We would have all said last year that it was a learning curve for the boys (Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor) but there’s a bit of pressure this year to come out of Munster.
JF: The two boys have been talking openingly about pressure.
AD: They’ve been straight up.
JF: Will the new Munster SHC format suit Clare?
LD: If you look at the league, I know Tipp were beaten in the final but they used 31 players and were looking at the bigger picture. We didn’t use as many players, probably 10 or 12 of the championship team were out most days. You wouldn’t want to be picking up too many injuries for a small squad whereas Tipp have built a panel for the long haul. We didn’t give as much game-time to some new players.
SM: Over the last few years, I would have always felt the longer the year went on the better Clare would get. I think the fact they’ve the four games… and an awful lot is going to depend on the Cork game and if they can come out of that with something it would be massive. The depth of the squad is possibly not there but if they could avoid the injuries I can see the likes of (Conor) McGrath and (Shane) O’Donnell flourishing with the more games they get if we can keep getting the ball to them.
AD: It could come down to the last game against Limerick, 19,000 in the (Cusack) Park. It would be some hot day. Tipp and Cork might be okay and then it will be us or Limerick. As Doyler said, the boys said last year they were trying to get their best team out for the championship. This year, they came out with a more settled team and they didn’t experiment with the goalie or the full-back line. If we could get a draw or something positive, with Waterford coming to the Park in the first game we could turn over Waterford then and if you have three points after two games you’re in a good place. Win the two home games and we’ve a great chance.
LD: There’s a lot of pressure on Cork too.
SM: We’re five years waiting for a performance in the Championship. Have we ever come close to the 2013 All-Ireland final replay?
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