18 December 1992
Ger McInerney in the Sixmilebridge jersey.
Still shining in a Sixmilebridge jersey
Can Clare afford to be without this talented forward?
By Seosamh OMuircheartaigh
Summer through winter the routine mirrors a conveyor belt. Training, playing, you win some but you lose more often than not. The solution is more training, more commitment, but the net result remains the same. The games that matter most slip from the grasp. Its hard to stomach but this is the harsh fact of life for the unfortunate intercounty star, unlucky to be born within the boundaries of a county destined to fall at the final hurdle.
The category of player is commonplace. The unwanted label of one of the best players never to win an All-Ireland is an oft used phrase. Roscomons Dermot Earley, Galways Joe Salmon and Antrims Kevin Armstrong shared this mantel. The elusive Celtic Cross eluded them.
Clare have also had their fair share. Jimmy Smyth played for Clare from 1948 to 1967. A true hurling artist, he never tasted victory on the Munster or All-Ireland stage. Sean Stack and Seamus Durack of later generations suffered the same fate. Add to this list Gerry McInerney, Clare threatened but failed to deliver. Munster Final defeats and a League Final appearance was McInerneys lot. Two Oireachtas medals was the only saving grace.
Two years on from his intercounty retirement, 31 year old McInerney looks back at what might have been. Just as Dermot Earley still reflects on the All-Ireland Final of 1980 as a game Roscommon left behind, the Sixmilebridge clubman feels Clare had the winning of the Munster Finals of 81 and 86.
“We had chances to win both games but we just let it slip at vital moments. In the final against Limerick in 81 I scored one penalty and missed another while Limerick full forward Joe McKenna went to town and in a scoring spree scored 3-3 to beat us,” reflects McInerney.
IF Clare left the 1981 championship behind them in Thurles the same can be said of the 1986 Munster final date with Cork in Killarney. McInerney is in agreement. “The feeling was that this game was a final fling for some of the established Cork players - Jimmy Barry Murphy, John Crowley and Tom Cashman were coming to the end of their careers so we felt we were in with a great chance, though our supporters probably travelled to Killarney in hope more than confidence. In the end a few things went against us and we lost by three points.”
A Cork goal in the second half is deemed to McInerney as the turning point. A Clare defender in over playing the sliotar was intercepted and quick as a flash Jimmy Barry Murphy applied the killer blow. The sliotar was nestling in the back of the net and Cork went on to win the All-Ireland, while Clare once again justified the notion that they were always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Clare have not graced the Munster Final stage since.
However, Clares misfortune didnt prevent Gerry McInerney becoming one of the leading lights of Munster hurling the 1980s. The much maligned Railway Cup series was a tremendous source of satisfaction for the Sixmilebridge player. “If you look at it next to winning something with your county, representing your province is a great honour.
“In my time it was taken very seriously. We had collective training and its the public who have downgraded it, not the players.” This commitment to the Railway Cup cause was rewarded with two winning medals in 1984 and 1985 respectively.
In this involvement with Munster and Clare, McInerney played with and opposed some of the outstanding exponents of the craft of hurling. However, rather than single out the likes of Jimmy Barry Murphy or Nicky English for special mention, the more workmanlike players found admiration in McInerney. “I rated Cork dual star Brian Murphy very highly. He didnt stand out but he got his job done as nobody scored much off him. His talents were probably appreciated a lot more by Cork than they were outside the county.”
Former inter county team mate Johnny Callinan is also singled out for praise. “Every year he had a tremendous attitude to training, he was very committed and was a great example to the rest of the Clare players.”
Commitment is a key word in McInerneys hurling make up. “The game has not really changed from my early playing days but there is a greater emphasis on fitness, there is a lot more physical training and the level of commitment required is greater.”
McInerney is confident that the current crop of young hurlers filtering through from the underage ranks have the necessary commitment and resolve to make the breakthrough. “The basis for success is there, some of the Munster minor winning team of 1989 will make their mark at senior level in the next few years.”
Indeed, this breakthrough could have come this year. “Clare had every chance of winning the Munster Under 21 title as Waterford were there for the taking,” speaks McInerney. Another title gift wrapped to the opposition. This defeat had a familiar ring to it, Killarney 86 all over again. Waterford prosper and claim All-Ireland honours.
Whether the Munster Under 21 class of 92 fade into obscurity like their senior counterparts of 86 remains to be seen. Could it be that the much documented success of the footballers will act as a stimulus for hurling achievement. McInerney thinks it will. “Few people would have invisaged Clares success in football but we are all sportsmen and Claremen so it was a big boost to the county. Everyone now has a target and it will be a great motivation for the hurlers.”
The footballers success can be attributed in no small manner to the driving force of John Maughan. This begs the question, can fellow import Len Gaynor have the same galvanising effect on the hurlers. Why not? “There is no harm in bringing in outsiders. Eamonn Cregan got Clare to a League Final in 85 when we played Limerick and both himself and Len Gaynor are similar, they both know what it is like to win an All-Ireland. Outside interest can help generate the interest,” says McInerney.
However, promoting and retaining this interest in the game is always a constant battle. The days of yore when gaelic games automatically held sway are long gone. The competition for our sporting attention is tough. In Gerry McInerneys eyes winter hurling does most damage to the promotion of the code. “Its a crazy system as its impossible to play and achieve the level of skill required in the winter mud. The conditions are adverse to the promotion of the game. Instead of fluent hurling all players are brought down to the same level. Winter hurling is something the GAA has to address itself to.”
On a local level the Clare County Board has address itself to another problem. The east-west divide that has traditionally characterised hurling and football in the county. As far as McInerney is concerned this battle is being won. “The traditional mould of football in the west and hurling in the east is being broken. Cratloe were in this years senior championship final while Sixmilebridge won the Junior B championship.”
If this football success for Sixmilebridge amounted to a breakthrough, the year was made more noteworthy for McInerney as a fifth senior hurling championship medal came his way. In a thrilling final, the Bridge overcame a spirited Eire Og side by the minimum margin. McInerneys other county medals were in 79, 83, 84 and 89. Add to this medal tally three successive minor championship medals from 77, 78 and 79 as well as consecutive under 21 medals from 78 to 80. He also captained St. Flannans to Dr. Harty Cup success in 1979.
Of this impressive medal haul, centenary year brought with it the highlight. “On the club front, winning the Munster club final in 1984 was the highlight, while being selected as an All Star replacement in 1983 was also a highlight,” says McInerney. The 1984 victory over Patrickswell made up for the disappointment of a replay defeat against St. Finbarrs in 1979 and softened the blow of this years final defeat at the hands of Kilmallock.
Another final reverse for McInerney. Could it be his last? His last outing for the county side at championship level was against Limerick in the opening round of the 91 campaign. Nearly two years on he is adamant that this was his last taste of big time intercounty fare. “I was asked back by Len Gaynor for last years championship but I declined. To get the level of fitness intercounty hurling requires is time consuming and you have to be fully motivated.”
Famous last words. Ray Cummins of Cork retired in 1981. As Waterford will testify he was back to telling effect in the 82 campaign. Gerry McEntee called it a day in 87 and again in 90. He was back better than ever in 91. Within Clare itself, Matt Nugent opted out in 58 only to return for the 62 championship. The precedence is there. What chance Gerry McInerney back in the Clare colours for next summers championship with Limerick. Does Len Gaynors invitation still stand?
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
18th December 1992