*Photograph: Joe Buckley
A strong public connection between the public and Clare’s historic side of 1995 has endured, a key member of the All-Ireland winning team believes.
At 6’3, Ollie Baker was the tallest member of the 1995 panel, his towering addition brought with it youth, strength and energy to the middle of the park. This week marks 25 years since Ger Loughnane’s charges made the breakthrough by winning the county’s second ever All-Ireland title.
It has been an eventful quarter of a century since, Baker admitted, “The majority of the team were young men at the time, time has flown by and it has been a busy 25 years in between and because we were so young it was the start of our careers in a lot of ways, it has been a rollercoaster of a journey since starting so high and it stayed high for so long and the in between years have been interesting”.
As the years have passed, the relationship with the Clare public and the panel of players has not diminished, he felt. “The whole summer of 95 was big long bit of craic, the way the weather was, the whole country took into following hurling that summer and to be part of the story in Clare with how the general public threw themselves at left a huge connection with the players and the public and that has endured more than anything over the time. There was also that connection between the players and the general public be it people you would meet at different functions, out socialising or at different clubs, 1995 was a big year that everyone felt a part of”.
Now living outside of Athlone, Ollie continues to holiday in his native county every year. Typically 1995 will always work its way into any conversation he was with people from the Banner County regardless of where in the world he meets them. “I find when I’m talking to people no longer living in Clare or from Clare, they are immediately drawn to 95 era, they take a lot of their memories from that time which are generally positive. Elderly people at the time had never seen Clare being successful and they were delighted to see it.
“That connection between the team and the hurlers or the footballers whoever it is the person representing you and wearing the county colours, it is hugely important and is something that every now and again has been lost or taken for granted, you need that connection and to understand why you are doing it and what it is all about, where you come from and the sense of pride and history of your county. It is a hugely important part of it for Clare because Clare is such a traditional county, when you see the Clare name in the stories of history going back as Brian Boru your chest pumps out a small bit because you are a proud Clare man, it has endured in our little episode of history. The relationship has endured to the point that we are forgiven for a lot of our failings”.
Key to the story of 95 being a reference point for so many is the exposure their campaign received, Ollie maintained. “It was the first time that the games hit television screens, sponsorship and marketing took over with Guinness running huge billboards all over the country which grabbed the imagination of people. You can market everything you want and put it in people’s faces but unless they actually like the product in front of them and the game of hurling is just fantastic, regardless of who came along that year I think it was going to be a starting point in how the GAA would be moving, we were lucky to be a part of it. The Clare team had been knocking on the door for a good few years, there was a Cinderella story of having been beaten in the previous two Munster finals and not having won a Munster championship in so long and an All-Ireland in longer again so all the ingredients were there for a Clare story to resonate with a lot of people”.
Interactions with supporters at the time were encouraged as it reminded Loughnane’s men who and what they were fighting for. “We were doing it for the supporters because they were investing so much, we were hearing stories of families investing loans from credit unions so they could bring their family of six to a match. When people were prepared to make that investment on you, you wanted to make sure that you gave them your time off the field and that you would do everything you could on the field”.
He continued, “It was the talk of the place and you wanted to be part of the conversation, it gave us a sense of reality as to what we were doing for, it wasn’t a crusade that the team was on it was a voyage that we had begun at the earlier part of the year, we got a lucky break against Cork and steam-rolled into the Munster Final where we carried on that wave for the rest of the year. It was a fantastic time, the scramble for tickets, the talk in the papers and that was a time when you could go out and socialise without the fear of it appearing on it appearing on a social media account, you did go out, you did socialise and you got on with your life, it was great”.
At the time of their success, the St Josephs Doora/Barefield clubman was working with the ground crew of Aer Lingus at Shannon Airport, their reaction as the panel of 1995 returned on Clare soil sticks out as a cherished memory for Baker. “When the plane came back to Shannon that evening four or five lads that I worked with carried me off the plane and down the gangway onto section where the big crowds were, I was carried shoulder high by my workmates, it was a proud moment for me and for the lads to be part of. It was a nice connection for me, there was always a good bit of banter in the day-room when we were working because there would be a strong Limerick and Clare cohort there, for us to arrive back with the Cup gave the Clare lads an extra bounce in their step, that was my first memory of landing back on Clare soil to be carried across the threshold by my workmates”.
Admiration is voiced by the former Offaly boss on how Loughnane, Mike McNamara and Tony Considine used the Munster Final celebrations that July to their advantage. “To the management’s team eternal credit, they tapped into the public mood at the time, they knew the importance the supporter played and the connection between the game of hurling and the supporters, the tour brought home the importance of what the Munster success meant to the Clare people and it framed our training for the next two months and it gave us a cause to fight for, it was a masterstroke by the management team that they involved us rather than secluding us away from supporters, what was the point in doing it if you weren’t going to enjoy yourself and celebrate with the people that were so proud about it”.
1995 marked the beginning of a new era in hurling, this step would not have happened were it not for the midfielder whose goal against Cork in the Gaelic Grounds set Clare on their way to Munster and later All-Ireland glory. “It started everything, it was wonderful and all those things but it had just been 1995 it would have been a wonderful story but what really made it a far better story was that it marked the beginning of something for Clare and our journey as a team which lasted for five or six years, to be dining at the top table in the hurling world was an amazing time for us”.