The hacks in the local papers will have to earn their crust this week. It
must be fierce hard to write about Cratloe and Clonlara. Their’s is a
rivalry that has crept upon us. Five years back isn’t all that long ago,
but for these neighbours, in hurling terms, it’s a different world. On
this weekend in 2005, those that probably had nothing else on, were
huddled amongst a hundred or so on the bank in Meelick, to see who, of the
two, would spill down to the quagmire of Intermediate hurling.
Since then all’s changed, changed utterly. For their Munster Championship
voyages this year, Clonlara and Cratloe endowed four hurlers to the Clare’s
Minors, Seven to the Under 21’s and Eight to the County Senior panel. The
pair have shared the last two County Championships - meeting each-other
in last Autumn’s decider - and when they were fattened and supposed to
fade away quietly they’re back to joust for a run at the Canon again.
Infact if Clonlara prevail this Sunday, they’ll have reached their third
County final on the bounce.
This week in St. John’s , Cratloe’s schoolhouse , every sentence has to
be paused and checked for hurling inuendo. Jackie O Gorman is caretaker
there, while inside at the teacher’s desk in Fourth Class is Mike Sheedy,
Clonlara selector. Behind enemy lines. If 2005 seemed low, Mike and Jackie’s
club hurling days were when being from Cratloe or Clon’ was a far smaller
currency in a hurling conversation than it is now. Infact a Senior
relegation fight might well have been the stuff of dreams.
“Well I suppose we may not have won as much”, maintains Mike, “but it
certainly didn’t mean we loved the game any less. I thought it was nice to
hear Cratloe’s captain Barry Duggan when he got the cup last year mention
all the names that pushed Cratloe up the steps. It would have been the
very same for us the year before. I suppose while winning the actual match
in the sixty minutes isn’t all that earth-shattering – it’s the amount of
time that people put in to get you there that’s huge. That was nice of
Barry. It was like he was representing the parish as much as the team and
in Clon’ we had it too with the work done over at the school and likes of
Moffit, God rest him, hauling us off in the back of the van. You’d be
there yet if you started mentioning all the names”.
Blessed are those who tend the vine though they may not be there to taste
Cratloe and Clonlara’s rise in stock has been as quick as it has been
impressive. Both clubs knew they had coming teams but its unlikely that
either expected the road to be as short. In 2007 the strongholds in Clare
kept an eye on Clonlara win their provincial Intermediate crown like you’d
coo in on a baby in a pram. Twelve months later they were trying to keep a
hold of their coat-tails. There was barely a ‘bedding in’ period worth
mentioning and while, rightly, there’s a perception that a County
Championship win has never been as open in Clare, both Clonlara and
Cratloe collide as two teams trying to get the most from the best vintages
“The turnaround for us, as well as yourselves I guess, happens when all
that work co-incides with a good group coming together at once. There
would have been a trickle through from the 1999 Intermediate winning team
with the like of Todsy (Tomás O Donovan), Paul Collins, Brian Woods and
Cian Moloney and more but the difference I see that seperates maybe the
current crop from the rest is that they played all their underage hurling
at A level. All the underage I would have played, and even later on, would
have been B. They wouldn’t really have the same awareness or regard for
tradition we’d have had all along. Some of them boys grew up in the field
over at Doonass too. The Donovan’s house has hurling on the father’s side
with Kilmallock and the boy’s mother came from a hurling tradition in
Kildangan. We all know about the hurling that was in the Honan’s and the
Conlons are at the pitch pretty much every hour of the day. But as I often
said three or four players is great but it’s the next seven or eight that
makes a team. I mean we always had a lot of great hurlers and great teams
at one era or another over in Clonlara but you need a stroke of luck I
suppose to tie them all in together”.
Mike admits when he was hurling there would have often been talk of the
1919 team that won Clonlara’s first, and then only, Senior title and when
seeing the photo he’d be thinking ‘well this isn’t really for us’. “Our
mindset never extended beyond Intermediate hurling”, he says.
“Infact the first time I ever remember this fella”, says Mike elbowing
Jackie, - … “apart from seeing him hurling with Clare, was a Junior B game
in Shannon. He must have been at the ‘lets say’ - twilight - of his career
then and I was thrown into goals in one of my first adult games. The
Cratloe lads had to walk through our dressing room to get to theirs before
the match . In skips Jackie with his boots in his hand and he stops up in
the middle of the floor and nods over to our elder lads. Jesus, he says,
‘I thought I was too old for this until I saw ye”.
It’s only really when you compare their records up against their recent
breakthroughs that it seems Clonlara and Cratloe’s histories had more
troughs than peaks. With that 1919 triumph, Clon’ had a handsome five
intermediate titles (1928, ’75, ’89, ’99 and 2007) to their name before
winning the Canon in ’08. Cratloe have four Intermediates (1937, ’43, ’70
and ’94) to go with last years win . Despite their geography they were
never able to play out much of their rivalry. Although co-incidentally
their most successful sides hurled much the same eras as eachother, Jackie
never remembers their paths crossing all that much. He first recalls being
brought to see Cratloe and Clon’ have a rattle at eachother at Minor
level in Kilkishen in the mid 50’s.
“ I used to love watching Tom McMahon and a fella called Noel McEvoy hurl
on eachother that time. I was a child, and fair enough I hadnt seen too
many yet, but I remember thinking that these were the two greatest hurlers
I had ever seen. There’d be an almighty battle between them. And y’know
they both left for Australia not long after”.
“After that then I remember they played eachother, mostly in Kilkishen
again in the 60’s. They were fierce tough matches. That time we had the
likes of Joe Gorman and my brothers, Mick and Eddie and Packie Quinn, Ger
Bentley and The Neills. Clonlara would have had the Crowes and they had
this fella - ‘ Boxer Madden’ at full forward. There was a famous line in
the dressing room about the Boxer – that if a scuffle started be sure to
keep you hurley with you ‘coz otherwise The Boxer would have you looking
up at the sky”. And they had the McDonnells too. They were great hurlers.
Truthfully neither side has hurled towards Sunday having shown their full
hand this season. Both were actually relegated from the top flight in a
Clare Cup campaign that was largely sacrificed to Clare’s league exploits.
Unwittingly it may have been the perfect time to refuel the club appetites
after hurling well into the winter months last year. The championship
brought no dramatic turnaround. Clon’ drew with St. Joseph’s before
ambling past Ballyea, Corofin and Crusheen. Cratloe were hardly inspiring
against Inagh/Kilnamona. They were a mixed bag against both Sixmilebridge
and Wolfe Tones and got their comuppence when they faced Tubber. But the
Quarter Finals showed that both sides seem to be turning the corner at the
right time. September is the month to up the ante.
Mike and Jackie have been steeling themselves for the trick question. Who’ll
do the business on Sunday? There’s the risk of giving something away here.
Closed mouths catching no flies and all that. This is the sort of
hoodwinking that has been going on in school all week. You’d wonder will
Mike and his team will turn up at the right pitch at all? “It reminds me
of the story of the salmon-poacher”, he laughs, “The river baliff walks up
behind him on the bank and when the poacher sees him he looks down into
the fish and says, ‘Jaysus, Would they bite you’? Let on nothing.
“Well seriously I suppose when you look at it in the last few years there’s
never been more than a puck of the ball between the teams. It was nearly
the last puck of the ball that won the game for us in the Under 21s this
year and it was the very same for ye’ in the Senior Final last year. Not
to sound clichéd but I think the feeling in Clonlara would be that it’s a
pity it’s a semi final two South East Clare teams have to meet in. If we
had to pick a county champion apart from ourselves alot would be saying
Cratloe over in Clonlara and I think that cuts both ways. But sure then no
more than playing anyone in a Semi-final it would be terrific to win on
Sunday. It’ll be everyman for himself but it wont be a lot that’ll
separate them sides”.
Jackie sees Sunday along the same lines. “ It’s a replica of last year
sure. The two teams had a bad oul’ run in the Cup. Much of it wasn’t their
own fault, a lot of hurlers were busy with Clare commitments but they
snaked along in the championship then without showing any huge form and
they’re there again now. The two teams are very similar to last year, so
why should it be any different? There’s no real feature where you’d say
one will have the advantage over the other. You couldn’t say that if
Cratloe play like they did in the first round…..or if Clonlara play like
they played in the second round…..there’s no form so it’s all on the day
really. It would take a wise man to call to it”.
You leave them and you’d love to know what they really think.
Cratloe vs. Clonlara, Cusack Park, Sunday 3rd October - 4pm.
Ar Aghaidh Linn.