Clare and Offaly meet again – 20 years after unique final clash
Brian Lohan and Eamonn Cregan reflect on the All-Ireland final showdown of 1995
Offaly’s Michael Duignan is tackled by Clare full back Brian Lohan during the 1995 All-Ireland final at Croke Park. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
It will be the 20th anniversary – already! – next September but in the more modest environs of the qualifiers, Clare and Offaly will tomorrow stage an unplanned commemoration of the 1995 All-Ireland final.
Back then the revolution was in full tumult: five years would go by without a hurling All-Ireland for Cork, Tipperary or Kilkenny – by far the longest drought in history for the Big Three – as Offaly and Clare, twice, sandwiched a win for Wexford in 1996.
Clare were in the first year of Ger Loughnane’s management and had bridged a gap of 62 years since they last won Munster, a prerequisite in those pre-qualifier days.
Although Clare full back Brian Lohan, who would end the season as journalists’ Hurler of the Year, acknowledges that the All-Ireland was “bonus territory,” he was confident.
“I felt if we were there or thereabouts we’d beat them in the end. It turned out that way.”
He had more personal problems on the field that day. A hamstring injury he’d been nursing flared up again after 40 minutes of the final.
“I pulled it against Galway in the semi-final and hadn’t really trained since. The first time I sprinted was running out onto the field that day. I suppose if it was now you wouldn’t be considered fit to play.
“When it went against me about five minutes into the second half I was hanging in there a bit but this was an All-Ireland final on the old pitch in Croke Park, which was a good bit tighter. Whatever it is about All-Ireland finals it’s very hard to create space and get space. I don’t what it was – whether players were closer together or what – but it was hard to get the ball in your hand and so hard to clear the bloody ball.
“But there wasn’t the same space there is now for forwards to run into space.”
He says that the team’s status as underdogs didn’t bother them. All-Ireland champions Offaly had thrashed Kilkenny in the Leinster final but Clare manager Ger Loughnane was programming his players with different data.
“What Loughnane was saying to us right from when we qualified for the final, what he was preaching to us was, ‘Offaly can’t handle Clare hurling, can’t handle the way we play’.
“You’d be thinking about it in hindsight and saying, ‘sure there’s no basis to that’ but at the time we just accepted that there’d be no way Offaly could handle us! It just made no sense at all. He said that from his time hurling, Offaly could never handle Clare. Where it came from I have no idea – but we all bought into it!”
Offaly manager Eamonn Cregan had his own forebodings about the match. He had long regretted that his own playing career hadn’t featured back-to-back All-Irelands with Limerick after winning in 1973.
“Players were on a high in ‘94,” says Cregan, “and it was hard to get back to training after the celebrations, particularly for a county not used to winning that many All-Irelands. . . The physical fitness was no great problem but the mental side of things wasn’t sharp.
“I could tell things weren’t right. They knew they were up against it in 1994 but there wasn’t the same drive as in ’95. It was the same with us in 1974.
“I remember asking after the semi-finals what they’d made of Clare. ‘Yeah, they’re good alright but we’ll beat them,’ was the attitude. That struck a chord with me. I wanted to hear: ‘Jaysus, we’ll have our work cut out to beat them.’”
Manager Cregan was an unwitting focus of attention in the Clare dressing-room at half-time, following a confrontation with Clare trainer Michael McNamara. “There was a row between them,” says Lohan, “so the majority of talk at half-time was about that. It was used as another stick to beat Offaly with. That’s all I remember from half-time . . .”
Cregan recalls the incident but says it was overblown .
“I remember. McNamara was up and down the sideline and I went on to the field to say something to one of the players and when I was coming off, he stood in the way. There was a slight confrontation. I remember looking at him with his hands on hips. It wasn’t much. I met him years later and we laughed about it.”
Despite the concession of two goals Clare defended well and held Offaly to 2-8. Two late points from captain, Anthony Daly and James O’Connor edged the match for them.
Offaly would be back in 1998 to win another MacCarthy Cup but by then Cregan had moved on even though their subsequent success was no surprise.
“That Offaly team was outstanding,” he says, “great players. The three Dooleys were a joy to watch, incredible hurling brains, and John Troy too. There was always going to be another All-Ireland in them.”