Ten Years of Solitude

The 31 County Sovereignty Committee

TG4 had a programme recently called The Long Hot Summer, a documentary about the tumultuous events of the Championship year of 1998. I didn’t notice it before it was on but, in the manner of General Sherman, if I had noticed it I would have avoided it, and if I had been unable to avoid it I wouldn’t have commented on it. The traumatic memories of that summer are still such that you don’t want to bring them to the surface, if it can be avoided.

Two things happened to make me reassess this position. My brother, talking to me about the match last Sunday, said that he’d cheer for anyone other than Cork after the shenanigans that went on with their strike. For the purposes of providing the reader with perfect knowledge, Cork is the land of our fathers and between us we have been to multiple Munster finals in times past (not involving Waterford, I hastily add) cheering for the Rebel County. In itself, it’s a big step to say that. The part that was pertinent to the summer of ’98 was my immediate reaction to his comment. I agreed that I too would cheer for anyone against Cork, “even Clare!” Yep, even Clare. That show’s a) how much Cork’s antics have antagonised the rest of the GAA world, and b) how deep the antipathy goes in Waterford towards Clare.

The second thing to drag the memories to the surface was this thread on An Fear Rua. At the time of writing the tone of the thread had remained relatively civil but you’d give pretty long odds on it remaining that way. Orwell said sport is war minus the shooting, and he would have recognised that in this particular spat.

Another oft-referenced historical figure, Schrodinger, would have had a field day with the way events can be perceived differently by the same person according to the proximity to the event. At the time, there was no doubt in my mind that everyone who was to blame was from Clare. There was little that was noteworthy about the drawn game other than it being a tremendous advert for the game. Anthony Kirwan had given the previously inflammable Brian Lohan a right roasting, and Shane Ahearne had been slightly incendiary when Tony Browne’s point ten minutes from time had not been given. Both these events would only seem important in the aftermath of the replay when all hell broke loose. Clare, chastened by their fortunate escape at the hands of a team that they should have beaten out the gate, were not going to be outthought or outfought this time around. Tony Considine laid down a marker with his column in the Examiner during the intervening week, and a team that had subsisted on a diet of raw meat took to the field on the second Sunday. Colin Lynch hacked at anything that moved before the throw-in, something obliviously missed by the spineless Willie Barrett. Jamsie O’Connor would later blithely confess to breaking his hurley off Brian Greene. Brian Lohan, enraged by his feet of clay been exposed by Kirwan, was dispatched with a mission to unsettle Waterford’s most brittle player, Miceal White, grappling with White for a ball that was the latter was picking up for a Waterford free. Predictably White took the bait, and the loss of Lohan to a red card was acceptable collateral damage in the circumstances. Waterford couldn’t cope with Clare thuggery and crashed to 12 point defeat, a humbling that was exacerbated by the prospect of having to patch up the battered bodies for a clash with a very fresh Galway in Croke Park a mere week later. The request of the Waterford County Board for the GAA to punish the brutes who had been left away scot-free by Willie Barrett was entirely appropriate and the people who phoned up Sportscall on the Monday with all manner of grievances were a model of restraint.

That is what my attitude was at the time. Typing it now causes me to go crimson with embarrassment. Listening to Sportscall, a comment by a neighbour of mine to the effect that Willie Barrett was picking on Waterford because we had beaten Tipperary did cause me to wobble, but the fact that she is from Kilkenny made it sound like fair neutral comment. The way Willie Barrett, an excellent referee who was like a twig caught up in a hurricane by the events of the replay, was treated by people in Waterford was an outrage. The County Board made us all look like whingers, which is what we were. Paddy Joe Ryan clearly sees his remit as being one to defend Waterford at all costs. He is hardly alone among county board apparatchiks nationwide in that respect, but once the dust had settled his comments could be viewed as part of this wider pattern and judged accordingly. He leapt to Peter Queally’s defence a few years previously over the alleged postponing of his passing out at Templemore due to events on the hurling field. Now, it probably wasn’t common knowledge at the time (sez he conspiratorially) but the member of the Garda top brass who would have made the decision was – and is – a fanatical Tipperary fan, and I would imagine this coloured Paddy Joe Ryan’s thinking. What he surely didn’t know (sez he conspiratorially) is that the member of the top brass has absolutely no animus to Waterford. Any efforts on his behalf to brainwash his children into following Tipperary were not particularly heartfelt because they all ended up supporting Waterford. In a similar vein, to suggest that Waterford were whiter-than-white in the Clare clash showed a degree of one-eyedness that, while understandable, displayed a lack of leadership that we should expect from people holding high office, such as it is. On a personal level, the preposterous idea that Brian Lohan took one for the team so they could rid themselves of the hurling colossus that is Miceal White was stripped bare by the hurling lesson dished out to him by Willie O’Connor’s a few weeks later in the All-Ireland semi-final. I’ve since heard various stories that it was Brian Greene who broke his hurley off Jamesie O’Connor, not the other way round; no one knows what the truth is on that one, so it’s necessary to disregard the story either way. Add in the standard caveat, disregarded at the time by all and sundry in Waterford, that it takes two to tango and that God knows how many incidents of savagery were not spotted by people with blinkers on on the Town End terrace and you can see why it’s not something people in Waterford like to talk about to this day.

it is for this reason, the failure to recognise their own culpability in what happened, that means that while i would now have no objection to waterford winning an all ireland i really don’t care whether they do or not.
prior to that summer i would have been actively hoping for them to win one and considering where waterford are coming from and their history that is vaguely disapointing for me as their history is our history.

twiceasnice97

One should note at this point that accusations from Clare people that Waterford people were embittered at having the cup of victory dashed from their lips should be met with a collective “duh!” Clare people seem to forget that the success of the mid 90’s was the culmination of a couple of decades worth of decent hits and near misses. The team of Loughnane, Callinan, Durack et al won back to back-to-back League titles in 1977 and 1978 and endured a string of five near misses in the Munster final. The best result Waterford could look to in that period was a replayed League semi-final in 1982. Other than that, we had three hammerings in League semi-finals in 1987, 1988 and 1995 (the last one to Clare) and three hammerings in Munster finals in 1982, 1983 and 1989, the 1982 defeat the stuff of legends. Reaching the League final earlier on in the summer of ’98 was worthy of celebration. Put all that in a row then contrast it to the collective disbelief in Déise ranks when Paul Flynn smashed home the equalising score right at the end of normal time in the 1998 Munster final. My wedding day was a day of miracles and wonder. Having my then-girlfriend accept my impulsive proposal of marriage was incredible. Watching the years of misery fall away like so much gossamer in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in June 2002 was joy beyond description. And make no mistake, orgasms are fabulous. But no single moment of life can compare with that moment in Thurles. To think all the week that followed that we were thinking that it was only a glimpse of what was to come and then to have it ripped away from our grasp. . . I make no apologies for being upset at being denied that end game, no matter how it was denied.

So we did much that was wrong and can identify much that went wrong. What you wonder, looking at that AFR thread, is whether Clare people can do the same. A general acceptance of culpability will be accepted, “it takes two to tango” and variations thereof. But any particular accusation invariably leads to increasingly frenzied explanations which, when taken collectively, amount to a rejection of any sense of responsibility.

Take the case of Colin Lynch. There’s no doubt that Lynch was the victim of a miscarriage of the rule of law. The GAA were quite insistent up until that point that referees reports were sacrosanct to the point of idiocy – Damien Byrne will be able to tell you about that, having been sent off in the 1989 Munster final despite not having landed the offending blow, and no amount of protestation saved him from a six month ban and the stain on his character of being the poster child of that grim day for Waterford hurling. Yet there we were, the GAA effectively making up the rules as they went along to ‘get’ Lynch. The manner in which Cork were accommodated every step of the way during their recent industrial relations difficulties would have resonated with those who suggested that the GAA handled the big counties one way and the small counties another.

All of that doesn’t change the fact that Lynch was a culprit that day, not a victim. Eamon Cregan made the point in the aftermath of Cork’s protestations at the treatment of the Semple Three that the GAA had to respond, and be seen to respond, to violent play on the pitch. It was the same with Colin Lynch. It was fine to adopt a see-no-evil attitude in the days when we only two days of live hurling a year. Casually ignoring violence, when a player was seen by half the country swinging a hurley with such force that had it been a child hacking at dandelion clocks you’d have taken away the weapon, was never an option. It was harsh that Lynch was the only one who was punished, but that defence is akin to a drink-driver claiming he shouldn’t be sanctioned because plenty of others were drink-driving and not being caught. If you can’t do the time, don’t commit the crime.

No, no names… but like I say, seated directly behind him were three priests, right? They weren’t watching the match obviously — their main discussion was on the Clare team, which went along the lines that the Clare team were tinkers, that Loughnane was a tramp, and the Clare team must be on drugs.

Ger Loughnane

Then there was the behaviour of Ger Loughnane. Time and context has not rendered his antics any less deranged. To begin with he was bigging up the idea that the drawn game was a classic where the only winner was hurling – Ger Lock loved the idea that ‘the only winner is hurling’, especially when Clare won. After the replay, Waterford’s every action the first day was painted in the worst possible light whether it be Shane Ahearne’s aforementioned pyrotechnics or Gerald McCarthy’s intimidation of Clare mentors. Then when the head of steam began to build against Colin Lynch, Loughnane completely lost the plot. We were all told that what happened on the pitch must be left on the pitch and the referee’s report is inviolate, which can be roughly translated as “you can do what you like as long as you get away with it”. Lurid stories abounded, with Waterford mentors supposedly having to leave the Munster Council meeting by a window to avoid the Loughnane-inspired lynch (pun unintended) mob outside and Loughnane flying off the handle at well-known anti-Clare hack Marty Morrissey for reporting Loughnane’s comments that the treatment of Lynch was a human rights abuse and that Lynch’s grandmother was at death’s door. The spectacular success Clare enjoyed under the Loughnane junta makes it understandable that people are reluctant to accept that he can do any wrong, but I would hope that privately Clare folk suffer a severe dose of buttock-clenching when reminded of such lunacy – and that’s before you ponder the batty Three Priests scenario.

(As an aside, Loughnane’s insistence on the rigid application of the rulebook, even in the face of unprecedented circumstances, would have ripples that impacted on Clare hurling’s future. When Jimmy Cooney blew the final whistle five minutes early in Clare’s All-Ireland semi-final replay against Offaly later on that year, the sensible thing to do would have been to replay those last five minutes, or given Clare a three point lead in a second replay. The GAA, a self-contained organisation with no need to fear precedents like that having a worldwide impact like it might in soccer or rugby, would probably have been amenable to that. But the silence from Loughnane and Clare, hoisted on the petard of their demand for strict legalism in the case of Colin Lynch, in the week after that fiasco at Croke Park was deafening.)

What I dont get is this, I dont remember one bad word coming from any of the clare team, managment, supporters or even the media following this game. Was it that the entire county stayed quiet about it?i doubt it. It all came out after the following match (replay ) that waterford had roughed clare up in the first game.

The Growler

It’s the historiography of the drawn game that sticks in the Waterford craw ten years on. As the The Growler points out in his comments on the AFR thread it’s an accepted fact amongst Clare people that the barbarism of the Waterford players the first day led to a response from Clare for the replay, and any subsequent carping from Waterford is merely a sign that they can give it but they can’t take it. This would be fine if it weren’t for the wholesale rewriting of the history of the drawn game that is demanded by this hypothesis. Where was the outrage from Clare people after the draw? If Waterford’s behaviour had been so far over the line, why was there not even a whisper about it, especially not from the voluble Loughnane and his only-winner-is-hurling raiméis? People who reference the evil atmosphere in the crowd before the replay as evidence of the smouldering resentment are engaging in a spot of after-the-fact rationalisation. There was tension, but there is always tension before big matches, especially when there isn’t a minor game to take away a bit of the edge and the weather is so wintry. Rather than accepting that their team’s behaviour was unhinged during the replay (as was Waterford’s, before anyone gets too outraged), it’s easier to ‘justify’ it in the context of a righteous response to brutality the first day. Unless we’re expected to believe that Clare people adopted a policy of omerta in the aftermath of a draw, keeping their powder dry rather than telegraphing their fury at Waterford’s behaviour, then the notion that Clare were fired up by incidents from the first game is impossible to accept.

Aha, some might say, what about Tony Considine’s article? Is this not evidence of the outrage felt in Clare? Even if it exists (and infuriatingly I haven’t been able to reference it online making me doubt its existence), certainly not on its own. All that anger in Clare, and the only public expression of it was one article that went under most people’s radar (it certainly went under mine, and I read everything in the papers in those days)? It is far more plausible that the article was the product of a team meeting in the days after the draw where Loughnane and co made it crystal clear to the players that Waterford were not going to catch Clare on the hop again. I realise this is going out on a limb, but I think that Clare were under the illusion that hurling now had a Big Four – Cork, Kilkenny, Tipperary and themselves. Watching the chairman of the Clare County Board waxing lyrical on their double success at Senior and Minor level after the 1997 All-Ireland final, you saw a group who now believed that they had established a production line of talent that would keep them going forever. This belief would only have been reinforced by the manner in which they ground Cork (the team who had beaten Waterford in the League final) under their heel in the 1998 Munster semi-final. So to have Waterford come within the few metres that Paul Flynn’s long range free drifted wide of puncturing that veneer of invincibility was a tremendous shock to the system. The message was not to be soft and hey Lynch that Tony Browne took you to the cleaners it’d better not happen again . . . and the rest is history.

It isn’t history though, not in the sense of being relegated to dusty tomes and referenced only with a wry shake of the head at such madness. The venom that entered the Waterford – Clare system that summer was potent, so much so that when Tony Browne was substituted in the last few minutes of the 2002 All-Ireland semi-final, the Clare fans cheered like they’d won the game. So much so that when person or persons unknown assaulted Gerry Quinn, Waterford people (myself included) denied it happened, then denied that it had been that bad, then challenged the accusers to put up video evidence or shut up. So much so that the 21 point marmalising of Clare in the first round of the 2004 Munster championship didn’t feel like a win, it felt like an exorcism. So much so that when Clare beat Waterford in the 2005 qualifiers it felt as bad as any defeat we had suffered, as if the win the previous year had never happened. So much so that – and this really is twisted – rather than face the potential trauma of that match in 2004 while living in England, I set out for the only time in my life to get completely and utterly wasted, knocking back six or seven pints of Stella in only a few hours on the hottest day of the year.

Time is indeed a great healer, so it shows just how bad the damage was from that long hot summer that the wounds haven’t properly healed even to this day. It will heal though, it has to. At one of De Gadderin’s staged by the contributors to the original (and still sadly missed) GAA Discussion Board, a fellow Déisigh correctly observed that it is not normal for us to be at loggerheads with Clare. Co-existence should be easy with a county at the far end of the province with the high fence of Cork (30 All-Irelands), Tipperary (25), Limerick (7) and Kerry (just being Kerry) between us. Each year I back away from cheering for Clare in matches not involving Waterford, but I do edge closer every time. And I am absolutely certain, as referenced right at the start of this rant, that should they meet Cork this year I’ll be cheering for Clare. Stuff will carry on happening which will make nursing grievances from 10+ years ago look increasingly futile – worry about the newer grievances! This isn’t about ‘getting over it’. You’re the sum of your experiences, and the summer of ’98 was an experience that will linger forever. You can adjust though, and adjust we will.

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