The mad month of August 1998 . . .

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Plain of the Herbs
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The mad month of August 1998 . . .

Post by Plain of the Herbs » Thu Jul 03, 2008 9:22 am

Some personal recollections of the maddest month ever - August 1998, and the events leading up to it.


February 1998.

The previous November Birr won the Leinster Club hurling title but must face Clare champions Clarecastle in the All-Ireland semi final at Thurles. Clare hurling stands at an all-time high. The county sides are reigning All Ireland champions at senior and minor and the previous two county champions, Sixmilebridge and Wolfe Tones Shannon reached the Club All-Irelands with the former bringing the Tommy Moore Cup home to the county for the first time.

Offaly, in contrast have gone back somewhat since being pipped by Clare in the All Ireland final two years previously and while the county is in dire need of a boost Clarecastle are fancied to advance. Birr take a half time wind assisted six point lead but goals from Ken Ralph and Danny Scanlan soon level the scores. A gripping finale ensued. Gary Hanniffy put Birr into a late lead but Tipperary native Ken Ralph’s equaliser means a replay at Thurles two weeks later: Clarecastle 3-9 Birr 1-15.

Birr make changes for that replay with Gareth Doorley replacing Brian Hennessy. This time Clarecastle lead at the interval of a tense replay and the sides finished level after 60 minutes, 0-7 each. Clarecastle, with their superior fitness, were fancied to close the deal in extra time but very often it’s the team who play the most direct hurling who prevail and that’s how it turned out. Johnny Pilkington put Birr into the lead with a typical fifty yard lung bursting solo run, Anthony Daly levelled for the Magpies again before Daithi Regan ensured the win when he fired over from long range.

While Birr were devastated with the breaking news that Tommy Errity had taken ill and died during the match, it was still an important win for the county.


March 1998

Birr go on to win the club final, beating Sarsfields on the day Istabraq won his first Champion hurdle.

Later that month Offaly face Antrim in a league match on a wet Sunday in Birr. While Liam Coughlan looks to be given the goalkeepers gold coloured jersey for the year, as is customary when playing a team from a weaker county, sub-goalkeeper Stephen Byrne is afforded the chance to make his inter-county debut. Byrne grabs his chance with both hands, making a string of fine saves in a most assured performance and is retained between the sticks for the visit to Clare two weeks later.

Liam Coughlan departs the panel, obviously disappointed that he is not to be first choice having alternated with David Hughes as Jim Troy’s understudy for almost a decade.


April 1998

Offaly head to Ennis to face Clare in the league on a bitterly cold Easter Saturday evening. Ger Loughnane is never a man to miss a trick and on this cold evening Clare allow Offaly out on the field first and then announce a fifteen minute delay in the throw in time while Clare keep warm indoors! While Clare secure the win, the move will backfire as the trick will be remembered when the sides next meet in Croke Park in August.


May 1998

The county team prepares for the Leinster Championship with a challenge game against Tipperary in Clonmel, manager ‘Babs’ Keatings home town. Offaly hit town with a depleted squad though and are forced to ‘borrow’ two from Tipperary to start the game. Some had club matches that weekend, some don’t bother to travel, some get caught in League semi-final traffic in Thurles and others find out that the match is a fundraiser for a dubious charity and turn back!

Keating is far from happy and threatens to quit, the first public inkling that all is not well in the camp. Keating stays on and Offaly get the championship underway with a big, though unconvincing win over Meath at Croke Park where goalkeeper Byrne, Simon & Barry Whelahan and Mark Hand make their championship debuts.

The previous day Offaly minors succumbed to Kilkenny by a sixteen point margin in the semi final.


June 1998

1998 is a big year in Wexford – the two hundredth anniversary of the 1798 rebellion. Some Slaneysiders see a correlation between this and an All-Ireland win until Enda McEvoy in the Sunday tribune points out they were beaten in 1798 as well. The event is commemorated with special jerseys with a pike on the sleeve and supporters march from the Clonliffe car park to the ground in 1978 dress of sleeveless waistcoats and carrying pikes. Wexford line out without centre half back Liam Dunne but still make all the running and should be well ahead at the break instead of being level.

They did move into a four point lead with fifteen minutes remaining but a Brian Whelahan pointed free and further points by John Troy and Paudie Mulhare reduce the gap to the minimum before Paul Codd put Wexford two ahead again. With time running out Brian Whelahan stood over a free on halfway and ignoring sideline instructions to take his point drops it in instead. The ball pings around the square and Johnny Dooley gets the sweetest of ground strokes to sent the ball past Fitzhenry for the match winning goal and put Offaly through the back door for the first time.

Earlier Kilkenny came from three points down with six to play to eke out a three point win they scarcely deserved over unlucky Laois.

Later that month Offaly under 21 hurlers are trounced by Kilkenny, twenty points the margin as Mark Hand is sent off in stoppage time.


July 1998

The Tour de France came to Dublin and quickly became the Tour de Farce as several team cars were searched at ports along the way and illegal performance enhancing drugs were found.

Offaly faced Kilkenny in the Leinster hurling final. The first half was a shoot-out between John Troy and Charlie Carter, each scoring 1-4 as Offaly led at the break 1-5 to Carter’s 1-4. The second half was a tale of four goal chances; DJ Carey scoring goals with two 20m frees, Johnny Dooley seeing a similar free hit a defender on the knee and rebound to safety and Billy Dooley seeing a goalbound shot cleared off the line by a defender with Joe Dermody beaten and Kilkenny held on for a 3-10 to 1-11 win.

The defeat precipitated an angry outburst from ‘Babs’ Keating who launched a tirade against some of his charges for not doing what he told them. Vincent Hogan’s post match report is reproduced elsewhere on this site as is Liam Horan’s interview with Johnny Pilkington in Tuesday’s Irish Independent which led to Keating’s departure. They make for interesting reading and give a clearer picture of the players’ dissatisfaction with Keating’s management, and his laying of the blame for the team’s underperformance solely on his players while divesting himself of all blame.

July ended with Offaly under the new management of previously unheralded Michael Bond and “who’s he?” was a common question around the county as news of his appointment broke. An unconvincing nine point quarter final win over Antrim did nothing for confidence as Offaly prepared for an All-Ireland semi final date with Clare who had overcome Waterford in a bad-tempered and at times ugly Munster final replay.


August 7th 1998

August came in like a lion that year as Clare faced disciplinary issues following that fractious replay with Waterford as star midfielder Colin Lynch was to receive a three match suspension for his part in the disorder. There was widespread disinterest among the Clare public regarding travelling to that semi final with many preferring to wait for the final! Mindful of this complacency, Ger Loughnane goes on Clare FM in midweek to rally the troops. Among the gems such as the ‘three priests’ stories was a broadside that Clare would have to fight on their backs to beat Offaly.

That came to a head on live TV on the Friday night when Colin Lynch’s appeal was to be heard at the Limerick Inn Hotel with RTE carrying an outside broadcast from the hotel Lynch’s grandmother had been hospitalised a week before and Lynch didn’t attend the hearing. In a last effort to delay the suspension Loughnane stated on television that Lynch’s grandmother had “unfortunately been taken off her life support machine” earlier that evening and that Lynch would not attend. The meeting proceeded and Lynch’s suspension as well as Loughnane’s sideline ban was upheld.

Meanwhile Offaly had their own issues of apparent indifference, that of the players, who were inclined to feel sorry for themselves. Kinnitty’s Pat Delaney addressed this in a televised interview on RTE’s ‘Breaking ball’ programme. Giving a motivational tour de force, he questioned how they could be tired and that his generation had lived for hurling in July and August! He would expand on this point on Radio3 the next day where he also noted Clare’s intimidatory tactics such as bullying of referees. Faithful Offaly supporters could only hope the players would take heed.

Jimmy Cooney was an unusual choice to referee the game. Although an All-Ireland medallist with Galway in 1980, a league semi final earlier that year was his biggest refereeing occasion so far. With Clare’s constant intimidation of referees many felt it was a job for Dickie Murphy, the most experienced referee on the circuit.


August 9th 1998

More gamesmanship ensued from Clare before the start. The usual a dummy team was announced during the week and the crowd strained to hear the announcement of the final selection over the Croke Park public address system. Loughnane took to the field with his team, striding around in his grey polo shirt, navy track suit bottoms and white runners before retiring to row A beside the Clare subs bench as the sun beat down on one of the hottest days of the year.

Offaly were up for the game right from the start. With Brian Lohan also suspended following the Munster final Offaly could afford to play a four-man half forward line comprising Johnny Dooley, Michael Duignan, Darren Hanniffy and John Ryan with John Troy and Joe Dooley forming a two man full forward line and Johnny Pilkington and Paudie Mulhare at midfield. Offaly led at the break 6 – 5, the highlight being Brian Whelahan’s brilliant penalty save from David Fitzgerald.

Offaly kept up the effort in the second moiety though Jimmy Cooney was in unsympathetic mood. A number of decisions went against the Offalymen, the most notable where he ignored a Seanie McMahon rugby tackle on John Ryan as the Shannonbridge man raced away!

A Fergus Tuohy goal after Brian and Simon Whelahan collided put Clare into a four point lead and it seemed they would pull away but Johnny Pilkington’s opportunist goal after a mistake by Fitzgerald had them level again. A superb run and point by Pikington, reminiscent of his score against Clarecastle earlier in the year put his side into a lead late on but as Offaly dared to dream of All-Ireland final tickets, Cooney awarded Clare the customary free to level it. To this day no-one is quite sure what the free was for and with Offaly jeers ringing in his ears Jamesie O’Connor almost sent the free wide but it scraped inside the left hand post.

Clare were unhappy that Cooney blew full time when they were in possession but they hoped for Thurles for the replay and to have Colin Lynch back.


August 22nd 1998

The day of the replay and Cloghan awakes to the news that popular local man Teddy Mulhare, father of Paudie, had passed away suddenly during the night. It’s another upset to the team who have an injury doubt over John Troy while Billy Dooley and Joe Errity are not fit enough to start. There are further distractions as the team are held up on the way to Croke Park. They underestimated the Saturday traffic while Central Dublin is inaccessible due to the Tall Ships Race which is in town that weekend.

On the Clare side, Loughnane is restored to the sideline but selectors Mike McNamamra and Tony Considine are banned from the sideline following unauthorised pitch incursions in the drawn game. The start is delayed for a prayer service to commemorate the victims of the Omagh bombing which occurred seven days previously. When jimmy Cooney gets the match underway Offaly are first out of the blocks with two points but Clare soon take over and they lead at half time, 1-9 to 0-4, Alan Markham scoring the Clare goal. There is a glimmer of hope when Offaly are awarded a penalty but Joe Dooley’s shot is saved.

Offaly rearrange the team on the restart, Brian Whelahan going to midfield and Michael Duignan reverting to defence. Later, Whelahan would move to full forward then back outfield again with Johnny Dooley moving to midfield. A scrambled Billy Dooley goal and a goal from a Joe Errity penalty give them hope and with the gap down to three and time seemingly running out, Jimmy Cooney blows full time!

Those around me who had timed the match immediately become aware something is wrong and a meeting between Cooney, his umpires, linesmen Aodán MacSuibhne and Michael Bodkin is interrupted by the ‘bouncers’ with the cropped hair and black suits who escort the referee from the pitch with the Offaly boos ringing in his ears. As cooney disappears from view so too, it seems have Offaly’s All-Ireland ambitions.

A small number of Offaly followers emerge onto the pitch in front of the Cusack Stand. This becomes a dozen, then twenty, then fifty as they wave towards the stands for reinforcements. That soon becomes a hundred and shortly they are joined by the Offaly supporters on Hill16 who join the action as a full-scale pitch invasion is underway. The Clare folk in the stands look on bemused as they can finally consider their All-Ireland weekend plans.

The oublic address appeals for patrons to clear the pitch. Seeing the futility of this, they then appeal to the hurlers of Kildare and Kerry who are pucking around preparing for their Under 21 ‘B’ final not to puck balls around. The odd Offaly supporter attempts to take charge by organising a sit-down but within seconds people spot friends and neighbours and they are off again to discuss the proceedings. The mood is one of confusion mostly with very few aware the rule book is on Offaly’s side.

Then chairman Brendan Ward’s finest hour. He takes to the public address and while we expect to be told to go home he addresses the crowd- “People of Offaly, we thank you for your support here today and I promise that we will FIGHT this every step of the way and we WILL be successful!”

After that people begin to drift away as car park closing times and train times come closer.

Speculation of a replay is rife that night and this is confirmed at lunchtime the next day that there will be a refixture to be held at Thurles on Saturday with Dickie Murphy refereeing.


August 29th 1998

The pressure is on Offaly to perform, to justify the awarding of the third game. Clare still harbour hopes of a last-minute reprieve for Colin Lynch as a local wag asks Brendan Ward if Clare looked for Colin Lynch back would Offaly look for Mark Hand back!

Again it’s a hot day and the Square in Thurles is thronged. Despite a disappointing turnout of Offaly folk the previous two days, this time the Faithful turn out en masse and the Town End terrace is a sight to behold.

Fot the first time that year Offaly had a full team to pick from with Billy Dooley and Joe Errity starting in the full forward line and Paudie Mulhare restored to wing forward. We all know that Offaly gave one of their greatest ever performance on the Thurles sod that day, Joe Dooley hitting over five points from play, Gary Hanniffy introduced to score three from play, Stephen Byrne’s saves which won him the All-Star award, Simon Whelahan’s assured defending, Kevin Kinahan’s hand of glue, the late challenge on Brian Whelahan and Brian pointing the resultant free from the halfway line, the spontaneous round of applause for Mulhare as he was substituted, the list is endless.

Michael Duignan was roundly booed any time the ball came his direction, a legacy of an incident involving him and David Forde the previous week, the Clare fans by now experts on what constituted rough play!

Offaly led by six with ten to play but three Clare points put them within striking distance. Loughnane sent on Danny Scanlan, wearing number 25, who had tormented Birr in February but took him off again after he had a weak shot saved by Byrne.

And then the final whistle and amazingly Offaly who had seemed down and out so many times during the year were the team who finally beat the seemingly indestructible Clare! It was a happy Offaly throng who headed back over the railway bridge and into town. The fax which poked fun at Clare was circulated (email wasn’t so widespread at the time). It contained such gems as the new Clare rules – all matches would be played in Ennis, the Clare bench would be placed along the 65m line, the opposition’s bench would be in Dunnes Stores car park and that Ger Loughnane would make up the rules of the game as he went along! The traffic was heavy as we snailed through Templemore and Roscrea but nobody minded. We were the team who had lowered Clare’s banner!


Footnote

Offaly went on to win the All-Ireland with a six points win over Kilkenny, their seventh in fourteen meetings. Joe Errity’s goal early in the second half put them ahead and Brian Whelahan’s goal with five minutes to play sealed the win and the team were rewarded with a holiday in South Africa that winter.

We didn’t know it then but quietly looking on was a man who had remained in the background since his playing days ended. Brian Cody was appointed Kilkenny manager that winter and wasted no time applying his personal touch to the team and imposing a style of play that Offaly couldn’t live with.

Those were the days my friend . . . we thought they’d never end . . .la la la la la la
Pat Donegan. Signed out of respect for players and all involved with Offaly.

athlumneyboy
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Re: The mad month of August 1998 . . .

Post by athlumneyboy » Thu Jul 03, 2008 9:46 am

Great Article i remeber the day in Thurles i wasnt at the match because i was a selector on the Offaly u14 who were playing down in the Tony Forristal in Waterford the whole panel watched the game in Mount Sion Clubhouse the banter between the offaly and Munster fans was amazing that day was probably that teams best performance since the Leimster final over KK .

The evening before the match Hubert Rigney give me a lift home from Work he was so focused he told they were going to beat Clare and win the All Ireland, when he stopped in Banagher he took 3 lovely hurls out of his car he said syd will be using them tomorrow.

These men are legends

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turk
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Re: The mad month of August 1998 . . .

Post by turk » Thu Jul 03, 2008 11:02 am

Great stuff POTH!!

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Bord na Mona man
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Re: The mad month of August 1998 . . .

Post by Bord na Mona man » Fri Jul 04, 2008 11:52 am

Great post POTH.
There was a never a GAA summer like it in my lifetime.

ryot
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Re: The mad month of August 1998 . . .

Post by ryot » Fri May 01, 2020 1:17 pm

That Saturday in Thurles is a memory for a lifetime.

Loughnane tried every lie & dirty trick in his book but we out-hurled them.

I had a travelling companion that day... My Parish Priest and he a proud Cork man.

He despised Loughnane for lies dirty tricks and lies and that's before his "3 priests" lies...……

I never before or since heard a clergyman express his feeling in such short words, mostly only 4 letters...….

Parking in the Bishops Palace was free and we were the first car heading to Boris, the 4 mile one !!!!!!!!!!!

A DAY FOR THE AGES...……….

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