August 21, 1992
Clare captain Francis McInerney raises the 1992 Munster SFC Cup.
Francis McInerney leading the Banner in from the wilderness
Whatever happens in the coming weeks, the 1991/92 football season will go down in GAA history as the year in which the old order was stirred and nor merely just shaken. Banner headline makers Clare have seen to that!
The as yet undefined but often quoted "weaker counties" troupe is now minus one member. Like a young fella always threatening to leave his mother's side, Clare have split from the homestead, have made the burst to assert themselves proper. It's unlikely that they'll return to the fold which, for seventy five years, imprisoned their ambition and strangled their development as a footballing entity.
In ending their three quarters of a century, Munster provincial football championship drought, Clare's footballing renaissance beckons and with a committed and skillful crew on board, it's full steam ahead up Ireland's longest river via the Liffey to Jones Road. One officer, at the helm, who's intent on savouring the trip like no other, is Captain Francis McInerney - Clare's chief navigator up front this season.
Far from happy to put the jigsaw under the bed and to dream about what has been accomplished already, everyone riding the Clare rollercoaster are pushing ahead with plans to tackle a new game called reaching the All-Ireland final. Requiring the underdog to come out with all guns blazing and to maintain that pace for seventy minutes is one hell of a challenge but McInerney and friends just can't wait to get started.
With a leading scoring tally of 204 to his credit over the course of this year's championship, Francis McInerney has contributed handsomely to turning Clare's dream into ambitions into mush. In effect, the Doonbeg star has helped achieve for his county what no one outside of John Maughan's band has ever attempted to forecast. Kerry's nightmare has opened up the window of opportunity for the Banner County to go to Croke Park as Munster champions by right. Clare will go to the capital with confidence. They'll be there on merit.
John Maughan's reminder to the Clare panel earlier this season that it's no harm to dream but now the time for dreaming is over, wasn't lost on 24 year old McInerney. Every since first representing his county at senior level six years ago in an undistinguished National League match, Francis McInerney has been wishing on a star for a breakthrough if not a break. Fellow county man and Munster Council officer Noel Walsh provided the latter when persuading his fellow executive members to give life to the open draw system. Mayo born Maughan cemented the break. Clare's Captain Fantastic and the rest of the Clare panel carved open the breakthrough thereafter.
Irrespective of what outsiders may have imagined, Clare's success this year was in the pipeline. Others may have thought otherwise, using Clare's thirteen point 1991 defeat to Kerry as a barometer, but Francis McInerney inserts some inside knowledge into the debate. "Although we lost in the end by something like thirteen points, the scoreline didn't reflect adequately our performance that day, especially given the fact that we were on level terms at half time. In hindsight, it was probably our lack of fitness on that day which failed us. Now, a year later, our fitness level is perhaps our forte."
Employed by De Beer's, the industrial giant based in Shannon, Francis McInerney's form this year has reflected his county's meteoric capture of the provincial crown. His achievement in notching 2-3 of his team's 2-11 tally against Tipperary in their championship pipeoner made him an automatic choice for Man of the Match. His strength and accuracy over the seventy minutes has not been equalled in any of the provincial matches played elsewhere this year, observers argue. A blistering 40 yard prompted his first point and both his goals, one in either half, would have done justice to the great John Egan as his approach work and final delivery earned applause right around the Gaelic Grounds.
One of five players from the famed Doonbeg club on the current Clare panel - messrs. Killeen, Conway, Blake and O'Mahon are the others - Francis McInerney's ability to carry the ball at speed in a B-line at opposing defences has made him one of the most respected forwards in the game. At six feet, one inch and weighing in at a fighting fit thirteen and one quarter stone, Clare's most eloquent of captains jokingly remarked after the Tipperary game "the lads carried me all year and it was about time I repaid them."
A twice senior county championship medalist with Doonbeg, McInerney admits that he couldn't have been part of a better football nursery than the home of 'erstwhile greats Senan Downes and Michael Haugh. Formed in 1955, the Doonbeg club boasts twelve championship titles in all and along with Kilkee have carried their county's Munster Club Championship hopes with distinction and honour in recent years. In his early, formative years and on the local football park, Francis McInerney's innate skills were honed to a tee by the likes of Tommy Comerford and former Clare favourite Tommy Tubridy. The breeding was there however. No question of making a silk purse and all that for Francis' uncle Frank (Killeen) was himself a player of great finesse in the mid 50s. Francis junior, they say, is out of the same mould.
At the back of his mind, Francis McInerney always felt that Clare's day would come. The team shaped up like future provincial champions when, under Dave Weldrick, they reached the quarter final of the National League, only to lose to Kerry by three points in a hugely entertaining 1987 meeting. That was exactly one year after Francis had made his debut, promotion had been clinched and within three seasons, the Doonbeg dynamo had earned himself a place on the Munster Railway Cup line out - McInerney's first run-out on Croke Park's hollowed turf would have him working beaverishly for a repeat sample.
For all but Clare's All-Ireland B success over Longford last November, Francis McInerney has been an ever-present on the county team over the course of the last six years. On that occasion, months of inaction due to a troublesome cartilage problem ruled the Doonbeg flyer out of contention for the B championship. Supporters of Clare football, within and outside of the county, nevertheless believe that just as Clare managed to win the B championship without ace attacker McInerney, the squad can do themselves justice against Dublin with or without the services of the highly rated David Keane.
Dublin are red hot favourites to beat Clare, Francis agrees. There's a postscript to any such statement as insisted by the full forward cum centre half forward. "Dublin are odds-on favourites but they have to beat us yet and only one team has managed to do that in our last 15 matches."
McInerney admits that Clare were not particularly impressive in beating Tipperary but discounts any notion that the team peaked in beating the Kingdom. There's much more in the tank, he insists, and as for the Tipp game, his conclusions make for interesting comment. "We were under pressure all year, even up to and including the Tipperary game. Remember Tipperary had earlier beaten Down, even though it was in Semple Stadium, and in a challenge game. We were under pressure to meet with the huge expectations that was in the county which meant that there was a hell of an onus on us to make the Munster Final for the first time in 43 years.
Needles to say a keen supporter of the open draw system, Clare's achievement has guaranteed the future well being of the new formulae and that too presents Francis with reason to look back on 1992, come what may, with great satisfaction. "The open draw system should now be here to stay. It has proved a great leveller within Munster and has only been good for the game," the Clare stalwart remarked.
Francis McInerney admits to having just enough nerves on big match days to get the adrenaline pumping and refutes, with typical politeness, any suggestion that Clare are just the right shape and height for freezing at headquarters in early autumn. He does concede that were clare to get stage fright against the Dubs then that would spell the end of the Clare carousal. "Certainly, we can't afford to be less than 100% in tune for the semi final but at the same time we're well aware that Dublin are not a superhuman team. We played them in a challenge match last February and though they beat us by something like five points, they didn't impress me as being a class apart or anything like that."
The pressure is on Dublin now, Francis maintains, just like it was on Kerry on July 19th last. Clare are in the winning habit and some habits are hard to break even with the help of others. Francis McInerney's nightmare scenario? "For us to lose in the semi final," replies the Doonbeg dynamo without a moment's hesitation. With an attitude like that, Clare will take some stopping.
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
21st August 1992
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