Today, Independent.ie begins a new series called ‘Beware of the Underdog’. Over the coming weeks we will recall some of the celebrated moments in sport when the underdog prevailed against the odds.
e begin with a look back at the 1992 Munster football final in which Clare shocked the GAA world by beating the game’s aristocrats Kerry.
Venue: Gaelic Grounds, Limerick
Match: Munster Senior Football Final
Result: Clare 2-10 Kerry 0-12
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On the field they soldiered together, fashioning one of the biggest upsets in the annals of the All-Ireland Football Championship.
Three weeks ago they stood shoulder to shoulder again as the hearse carrying the remains of Noel Walsh, the architect of the Clare football renaissance, journeyed through the streets of his native Milltown Malbay.
Arguably, Clare might still be waiting for their first Munster SF Championship title since 1917 were it not for the foresight of Walsh.
A lieutenant colonel in the Irish Defence Forces, he cajoled, persuaded and badgered the inherently conservative Munster Council to introduce an open draw in their football championship in 1991.
“This decision opened so many doors for so many teams,” recalls Martin Daly. The youngest member of the squad, Daly was only 19 on the day of the Munster Final. He only linked up with the squad a couple of months previously, having played well for the U-21 team. By then the Clare project was fermenting nicely.
Prompted by Walsh, the County Board had recruited the country’s youngest football boss. Crossmolina native John Maughan was only 28 when he became Clare manager in 1990 after injury had ended his own playing career with Mayo.
After winning the All-Ireland ‘B’ title and reaching the quarter-finals of the National League, they were ready to take the next step.
“I noticed straight away the players’ high level of fitness and the discipline,” remembers Daly.
“Everybody turned up on for training and on time. The management had earned the respect of the players and there were good leaders on the team – like Seamus Clancy, Noel Roche and Francis McInerney.”
Daly had played on winning teams at club level with Lissycasey and for St Flannan’s in both colleges’ football and hurling. He expected to carry on winning at senior level.
“Maybe I was gullible, but after we won the semi-final (against Tipperary) I got it in my head that we were going to win the final as well.”
This confidence permeated throughout the squad.
“We had played a lot of the top teams in challenge games. We kept winning and we really believed we were going to come out with a victory against Kerry.”
Ultimately, Daly’s predatory instincts enabled him to score the goal in the final quarter that secured the Banner County their place in
It was a decade and a half later – in 2007, when his club Lissycasey won the Clare Football Championship for the first time – that Daly finally appreciated how significant the 1992 win was.
“By then I knew what it was like to experience so much hardship before finally achieving the breakthrough.”
Still, he got an inkling of what his goal meant that evening in 1992. He left the official celebrations in the West County Hotel in Ennis to meet a few mates up town in May Kearney’s pub.
“There was a beer garden out the back where my friends were. But when I went into the bar a few of the older heads there lifted me shoulder high and carried me around the garden while everybody started singing ‘Who put the ball in the Kerry net’.
“I then realised what the win meant to Clare people”
As soon as the final whistle sounded Mickey ‘Ned’ O’Sullivan knew his fate was sealed. He would never manage Kerry again.
So he wasn’t in the mood for small talk on the journey from the Gaelic Grounds to a hotel in Adare for the after-match meal. He was just glad to be getting a lift.
As they passed a graveyard his friend turned to him and remarked: “You know there are a lot of guys in there who would like to change places with you.”
He chuckles when he remembers the only moment of light relief on a day he rates as his most disappointing ever in Gaelic football.
Seventeen years earlier he missed out on receiving the Sam Maguire after Kerry had beaten Dublin in the 1975 All-Ireland final.
He woke up around 9pm that night in the Richmond Hospital after being knocked out after running into a posse of Dublin defenders during the game.
“There is no comparison.”
He had been long enough around Kerry football to know he wouldn’t be forgiven for the loss.
“I knew I wasn’t going to get a second chance.”
O’Sullivan was at the end of a three-year term, having accepted what was the poisoned chalice of taking over from Mick O’Dwyer after the 1989 Championship.
“I hadn’t made up my mind about whether I would look at staying on. I was planning to talk the matter over with the then County Board chairman Sean Kelly.”
But Kerry’s first ever loss to Clare in a Munster final sealed his fate.
“I didn’t want to be the manager of a Kerry team beaten by Clare in a Munster final, but that was the reality and I had to accept it.”
He sensed the worst before the squad reached the Gaelic Grounds. A carload of players were late arriving in the team hotel.
Then in the dressing room he thought the mood wasn’t right. There was an ominous air of complacency around the place. “This is a manager’s issue – it shouldn’t have been there.”
Even though Kerry had caused a major upset the previous year by ending Cork’s bid for a record fifth Munster title in a row, O’Sullivan believed his Kerry team was still in transition.
In any event, the game marked the passing of the baton in Kerry football. Jack O’Shea never played for Kerry again.
His low-key retirement announcement, which he made in the dressing room afterwards, was totally overshadowed by the momentous nature of Clare’s breakthrough.
Seamus Moynihan, who had just completed his Leaving Certificate, made his senior debut for the Kingdom that day and ultimately became the team’s talismanic figure for the next decade and beyond.
At some level O’Sullivan could appreciate what the win meant for Clare but the Kingdom haven’t won 37 All-Irelands by being kind to others.
“As a manager you’re not in the business of doing others favours.”
But on that fateful July Sunday, Clare didn’t need any favours.