*Stephen McNamara. Photograph: John Mangan
Clare’s players were moulded by a trust and self-belief placed in them by the management of their conquering side of 1995.
Stephen McNamara was previously described as the “accidental hero” in Clare’s hurling story of 1995 by The Irish Independent. The corner-forward was among the first of the team to drift away in subsequent years despite adding a second All-Ireland medal in 1997.
Of his decision not to persist at inter-county level, Stephen explained, “I enjoyed playing football as much as playing hurling, I just enjoyed life too. It was never gong to be my thing to stay playing at that level for all my life, I was happy with life, I had great friends everywhere and I got out of it what I wanted. In 1999 I had double groin operations, to get back to that level again you would have had to crucify yourself and I didn’t think it was really worth it, I was warned by the doctors that the whole thing could go again and that there would be no guarantee it would work, they had said to play a few club games if I wanted but not to go through the madness of training at the time”.
His grandfather Jackie also won two All-Ireland medals but with Limerick in 1936 and 1940, eight All-Ireland SFC medals were obtained by his uncle Ger Power in his days lining out for the Kingdom between 1975 and 1986. The family tree may breed success but McNamara never envisaged getting his hands on a Celtic Cross.
“I never thought I would be on the Clare team that it would eventually happen to. The whole year was like one big dream, everyone growing up you want to get to a level to play hurling and football, I didn’t care which game it was going to be at. To win a Munster championship and beat Limerick in Thurles, to win an All-Ireland final then was unbelievable,” he told The Clare Echo.
A selector with the Paul Madden managed Éire Óg footballers, Stephen highlighted that the success of John Maughan’s Clare footballers in 1992 and the physical training they underwent proved to be a light bulb moment for many people involved in county hurling teams in the Banner. He stated that the age profile of the senior hurlers despite losing provincial titles in 1993 and 1994 was healthy.
Stephen recalled, “Ger just believed that there was something there, he put a spine there with Davy, Lohan, Seanie, he had a leader in Dalo, Baker came to the fore, Sparrow was there, Conor and Fingers, he built them all and I think he looked for characters and lads that wouldn’t be looking to the line for inspiration. Everyone one of them at one stage had their moment and it was a crucial moment, everyone of the team in 95 contributed and even Eamon coming off the bench. He had leaders everywhere, they didn’t need much minding, he moulded them all, put them in the right places and trusted them, he put a belief in you that you were the best corner-forward, full-back or centre-back”.
Arguably McNamara’s key moment during the 95 bid was rattling the Galway net in the All-Ireland semi-final. Following persistence from Mike McNamara to get the Éire Óg man on the panel, he may have clashed with individuals from one neighbouring club following an incident that prompts a hearty laugh, the story behind which may have to wait until the thirtieth anniversary of their success before being released in the public domain.
He is among a high proportion of the panel that have ventured into management post-playing. “I went into it because I enjoy the game so much and I wanted to give something back. When I moved to Dublin I got involved with different clubs and it was a great way of meeting people, lads enjoyed the game. When you’re an All-Ireland medal winner, no disrespect to lads before but if you hadn’t won anything before maybe they wouldn’t have asked you and you end up in positions that in the past you may not have ended up in”.
Celebrating their exploits bring back special memories for the Ennis man. “Being from town I was the one that was going to bring the Cup into town, I remember coming up past the West County and a good old mate of mine Brian McAllister was at the roundabout, I showed him the Cup and he gave me the thumbs up, that to me was a huge thing to meet one of your own straight away. On the Tuesday there was seven or eight of us that played all the way up along, Barry Keating, David Pyne, Tadhg Lyne, Tom Corbett plus the likes of Tony Honan, Keith Wood, we did seven or ten pubs around town on the Tuesday and the craic we had starting at Brogans and ending up down in Ganga Griffins, that is the one memory I will have from being with all the lads I grew up with in the club, that was my real memory of celebrating. Everything else was with the team, you were going on weekends here or holidays there, you didn’t see the mates you grew up with for three months, I think everyone of us will remember that Tuesday”.
Some days 1995 feels like yesterday, others remind him that it is a long time ago. “I’d be scratching the head but the hair is gone and it was there 25 years ago, it has been quick in one way and it hasn’t been in others, there is a lot of water under the bridge. There are a lot of people around 25 years ago that aren’t here now”.