It’s fitting that 25 years on from Clare’s greatest ever championship feat of beating neighbours Tipperary in both the Munster and All-Ireland finals, the Lohan brothers are back leading the Banner cause. As he was in 1997, Brian has take a central role on the field but younger sibling Frank is also part of the engine room that is the fundraising wing of Club Clare.
As the driving force behind the Club Clare Golf Classic over the past twelve months, he has witnessed the huge wave of support and good will behind the current crop at first hand.
“We’re delighted with how much people have embraced Club Clare, its membership drive and of course the golf classic which takes place in a fortnight’s time once more in Lahinch [Wednesday, May 4th] and Doonbeg [Wednesday, May 5th].
“We’re very lucky two such prestigious courses have partnered with Club Clare to host two great days for the benefit of Clare hurling and camogie.
“I can’t thank the three main sponsors Clare Civil Engineering, MD Sports and Zurich Insurance enough and of course all the teams that have signed up so far. We’re so fortunate to have such a strong backing that we’ve been able to even emulate last year’s huge number of teams and we’re so grateful to the top businesses and individuals around the county who have lent their support so well.
“Financially it was so important for Clare but even the event itself, there was a lovely blend of past players, mentors and lifelong supporters mixing together and creating such a great vibe last year. “Particularly with the two years that preceded it, it was great for people to catch up and also obviously support Clare hurling and camogie”.
That support will be required in the stands too this Sunday as Lohan the elder leads the Banner into battle in Thurles for their competitive championship bow. With Clare having had a bye in the opening round, what were Frank’s impression of the opening weekend of action?
“It was brilliant to have the round-robin back. I’m a big fan of it as with two home matches for each county, it’s a great thing for supporters to look forward to and I’m sure the players too. From my own time as a player, to get the chance to play four guaranteed matches and the opportunity to show your wares on the biggest stage must be something that current players savour.
“The standout of the first weekend was obviously Limerick’s performance and the level that they’re at come the first round down in Cork, it was pretty impressive. Waterford weren’t too far behind, they probably had a poor first half but really tore into it at the start of the second half to finally get on top.
“Tipp impressed too and had some dangerous forwards but it’s ultimately a results business and it was Limerick and Waterford that made the early running in the provincial race.”
Based in Oranmore, Frank was also keeping a keen eye on the new Henry Shefflin era in Galway which began with a frustrating stalemate in Wexford. “I think they would have been disappointed to not have come out of Wexford with a win. It was there for the taking and they probably controlled the match for the majority. I suppose like any county, if you take out the calibre of Conor Whelan who went off early through injury, it was a sizeable blow to take.
“Over the past two years, Galway have possessed the oldest championship team and that has changed this year as they’ve tried to find a number of new players from very successful underage teams.
“So while I’d say they would have been very disappointed not to get the job done on Saturday, still a draw is not the end of the world as the claustrophobic atmosphere in Wexford Park makes it hugely difficult place to get a result from. So they won’t dwell on it too much I’d imagine and move on to the next game quickly.”
So what of Clare’s hopes?
“Playing your first two matches against teams that have already lost matches is difficult but let’s be honest, there’s nothing easy in Munster anyway. Hopefully a few more lads can get back from injury as we were starting to see signs of a strengthening team and panel over the last few rounds of the National League.
“I think considering the amount of injuries we’ve had throughout the year so far, most supporters would be happy to get to that starting line with close to a full strength panel. And we’ll need as strong a squad as possible as Tipperary were good on Sunday, they have some very good forwards and have had the underage success too to bolster some of the retirements they’ve suffered.
“Tipp also have a new manager the year in Colm Bonnar which takes a bit of adjustment and there’s a lot on the line for them now having lost the opening game. It’s a huge match for both sides really though and it was always going to be that way anyway because everyone knew Munster was going to be ultra-competitive and that’s the way it’s panning out.”
Does it make it extra nervy as a supporter going down to Thurles that your brother is over the team? “Of course it does. With Brian involved, you’d obviously be hoping that Clare do well and that things go well for him. There’s no doubt that inter-county management is a pressurised area, you can see that with all the managers at the weekend.
“So with COVID and then injuries, it can’t have been the easiest time to be over an inter-county team but Brian has just tried to prepare the team as best he can and hopefully they get a small bit of luck on the day.
“As supporters, I think that’s what we’re all hoping too and also that Clare can get a few results early in the competition.”
It would only add to the atmosphere of the Club Clare Golf Classic on the first week in May.