Banner folk basking in the glow of unexpected glory
All-Ireland triumphs are a rare event in Clare and the mood in the county has been transformed by a famous victory
When Davy Fitzgerald made his entrance to keep goal during Wednesday night’s game, his forwards welcomed him by firing two quick shots past him. “Trying to give them a bit of confidence,” Fitzgerald said to the crowd. The crowd laughed as Fitzgerald manned the goalmouth, the place where he had stood for 18 seasons with Clare. He was joking but the line summed up what has happened in Clare. The confidence has flooded back into their game.
Time and again on Wednesday evening, people in the crowd told one another that what they had witnessed in the past few weeks was “unbelievable”. That is what happens when you come from a county that has been All-Ireland champions just four times in 123 years. You can easily presume that you just won’t live to see it again.
It is impossible to overestimate the importance of Fitzgerald in the revival. From his first days in the Clare colours, he has always been a force of nature. Since he started coaching, he has gained a reputation for running innovative training sessions, for having perfectionist’s obsession with tiny details and most of all for communicating his unique, slow-burning passion.
The championship has become a “results business”. Already, questions await this Clare team. Can they win it again? Can they win a Munster title now? What of Kilkenny, where the idea of Nowlan Park padlocked and dark on a GOAL All-Ireland night is strange to think about. But these are questions for later. It is important to remember why so many players and managers devote themselves to the competition winter after winter. It is for the outside chance to have nights like they had in Sixmilebridge, where team and fans alike felt as if they were on top of the world.
The players stayed on the pitch for up to an hour signing autographs. Shane O’Donnell, whose replay heroics have seen him eclipse the cast of One Direction as the ideal pin-up for youngsters in Clare was trapped on the field by a cordon of determined young girls wielding pens and autographs. Afterwards, he was trapped in the dressingroom as young fans refused to leave. Eventually, it took a Garda escort to get him from the ground to the team bus. This weekend, he will be back to hurling with his club and some kind of normality.
“What I found unreal is the reaction from all over the country,” Fitzgerald told RTÉ radio as he sat in his parents’ house. “We were playing that for counties that never get a chance or don’t get there too often. Did it remind me of the 90s and that? It did. They were tough days in between and you are always saying: can we have one more day?”
See all the doors swing open.