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Highlights on Off The Ball

John Duggan: Clare's silver jubilee is just lovely hurling

John Duggan gives a personal take on Clare's magical All-Ireland hurling win, 25 years to the day...

John Duggan: Clare's silver ju...

John Duggan: Clare's silver jubilee is just lovely hurling

John Duggan gives a personal take on Clare's magical All-Ireland hurling win, 25 years to the day.

We got the tickets through the Camogie Association.

My aunt, Maura, was friends with the Camogie President. It was the way then, and is still the way now. Knowing someone twice removed from somebody else. It doesn’t matter who it is. Just make the calls, try and sort it. Thank them sincerely a thousand times when they do.

It was Clare versus Offaly in the 1995 All Ireland senior hurling final. 3rd September 1995. Dad was from Quin, near Ennis and had lived for six decades through the disappointments of a proud hurling county. The near misses, the heartache. 1955. 1978. 1994.

The tickets were £26 each. Punts. Upper Hogan at Croke Park. The Guinness logo on the stub. It was the first year of their sponsorship.

Dad and I got the Dart to Connolly and walked up. I remember less about the surroundings than the Munster Final, when we had ham sandwiches and club orange in the Thurles sun. That was D-Day, the breakthrough in the province after 63 years. Dad had never lived a day in his life with Clare as champions of anything. He was 62 at the time. The final was a journey into the complete unknown for the 15 Banner bachelors on the pitch, ourselves in the crowd, everyone else. Even Ger Loughnane.

We were lucky with the tickets. They were on the half way line. I found it daunting. I felt a shiver down the back of my 16 year old neck. This was always a big day in our household, the match I had been watching in my living room with Michael Lyster on the screen for a good few years now. Galway and Tipperary, Kilkenny and Cork. Not Clare. Not a hope of Clare. The minor final in Irish in a half full stadium would only make one more hungry for the main course.

In the minor final in front of me that day, Cork won, with Joe Deane, Sean Óg Ó’hAilpin and Donal Óg Cusack in their team. It was a distracted watch, as the auld nerves for the senior game were not under control.

I don't remember anything else until the senior game started. Offaly were defending champions and scored a soft first half goal through Michael Duignan. Clare struggled a little, but finished the half well to keep the deficit to two points. Both defences were on top. In the second half, Fergie Tuohy had a stormer for Clare, keeping them in it. Brian Lohan was memorable, a chieftain in that red helmet, those clearances giving supporters injections of adrenaline in the stand. However, the feeling from where we were sitting was that Offaly had the upper hand. Johnny Pilkington finished to the net midway through the second half following a bit of a scramble and there was just this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Clare had come so far that year, we didn't want it to end. Now, hope was fading.

Clare's backs were always the platform for their success, keeping them in matches. They stuck at it and two points down with five minutes to go, captain Anthony Daly launched a long free towards the Canal End, and suddenly, the sliotar was in the net. We all know what a GAA goal feels like. That’s where the Clare fans were situated and the place just went mental.  Dad is long gone now but there was just this look between us, standing up. Unsaid. We honestly couldn’t believe what had happened. We had no idea who scored. It was a magical moment. We found out later that it was Eamonn Taaffe, off the bench for the biggest cameo of his life. From that point on, the sporting gods must have decided it was going to be Clare's day, not Biddy Early's. Points from Daly and Jamesie O'Connor were enough for a 1-13 to 2-8 win and hurling's revolution years had really taken off. It was Clare's second All-Ireland, their first since 1914. Funnily enough, Blackburn Rovers bridged the same 81 year divide in English football that year.

For the people of the Banner county, home of traditional music and the Burren, long before the Irish Open at Lahinch and visits from Donald Trump, it was such a romantic achievement. The players would prove themselves again as the best team in the land two years later, but the 3rd September 1995 was a day in which the whole country stood up, noticed and had a smile on their face for Clare.

It was later on when I saw the half-time interview with Ger Loughane, when he told Marty Morrissey "We are going to do it." That was the essence of Loughnane, the sheer bloody mindedness to break boundaries and smash down walls. It's inspiring for anyone to never give up and keep the faith. Up the Banner!

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Clare Clare Gaa Cork GAA Hurling