If Clare prevail, there will be bonfires in paradise again
Carlow native Leo McGough is about as fanatical as it gets when it comes to Clare hurling
Clare hurling fan Leo McGough pictured near his home in Carlow at the Brownshill Dolmen. Leo is holding a match programme from the Cork-Clare match in 1978, his lucky hurley and a t-shirt from the 1995 Clare All-Ireland homecoming. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan.
Although born and living in Co Carlow all his life, Leo McGough (53) is about as fanatical as it gets when it comes to Clare hurling.
Both his parents were from the Co Clare village of Inagh, and so Leo spent every summer and school holidays with his relations in Clare. He says his first hurling memory is listening to a national league hurling semi-final between Clare and Kilkenny when he was about eight years old.
Every week, relations would post the Clare Champion newspaper to Carlow, and his father passed on to him a passion for the Banner County.
Since 1972, Leo estimates he has missed just four of Clare’s championship games.
“It is a complete passion. I have a brother with special needs and in the 1970s he would tape the Michael O’Hehir commentaries for us on the radio. That was his job, and we would all listen together when we got home.
“When Clare won the league in 1977 it was huge. Noel Casey got a point and Michael O’Hehir said ‘there’ll be bonfires in paradise tonight’.
“Now, people listening probably thought he meant heaven or something, but there’s an area of land between Ballynacally and Kildysart called Paradise. It was a great line.”
McGough never learned to drive and so hitch-hiked to many of the games he attended from the 1970s onwards. Often he would leave a few days before to soak up the atmosphere along the way. “When I’d thumb to matches I’d make a weekend of it. I’d nearly always get to Ennis on a Friday night and then take it from there.
“Even if Clare were playing in Dublin I’d thumb to Ennis on the Friday and head for Dublin on the Saturday night. The craic along the way and meeting different groups was great.”
Having seen many Clare teams over the years, how does he rate the current crop?
“I was one of the ones complaining about the game- plan at the start. But the way we played the last few games, even if we don’t win on Sunday this team is going to be around for a while.
“There’s maybe not the same love for the team that was there for the one in the 1990s, but I think the way they played in the last few games they’ve won people over.”
The days of hitch-hiking are over for Leo. He got a bus to Ennis yesterday, and is staying with his sister and soaking up the pre-match build-up. At some stage they’ll head for Dublin, although he hasn’t a lift organised yet. It’s unlikely he’ll be left behind.
“The game is just over an hour, but the match can last a whole weekend.”