*Jack Lynch and John Arkins. Photograph: Joe Buckley

NORTH CLARE has been deprived of a visit from the Jack Daly for over seven decades and the last two surviving men from the region with Clare SFC medals are hopeful the drought will soon end.

It was 1950 when Kilfenora defeated Clonhanes in the Clare SFC final on a scoreline of 1-04 0-03, their opponents were an amalgamation of Mullagh and Doonbeg. Wing-backs for the victors were John Arkins and Jack Lynch, they were the youngest members of what was only the second Kilfenora side to taste senior glory, thankfully they are still hale, hearty and well able to recall the events of seven decades ago.

Now aged 91 and 90 respectively, both John and Jack are incredibly fresh for their age and remain impressively sharp both with their views of the current game and the memories of times gone by. “We’re tough”, said John when divulging their respective ages.

Dermot Hogan was captain of the Kilfenora side and spoke on the occasion of his delight at bringing the championship title back to North Clare. The occasion is still to the fore of John’s mind, “It’s 72 years ago, there’s a lot of floods gone down the river since but we can remember it, we’re still hoping someone in North Clare will pull it off again. Jack is a mighty man for going to the games”.

As ever keen to bring his teammate and close friend into proceedings, John’s mention of Jack’s attendance at games sparks another discussion about how the pandemic has led to more opportunities to watch club games without leaving the house. “With COVID, you’re able to watch the club games on television and things like that, there isn’t much going out now”.

That may have been a positive in widening the reach of the game but John remarked, “The COVID ruined it all” relating to the reduction in mingling associated with championship encounters.

“Before that even too you could take a drink and drive, that’s so many years back, we used to have great times with the few drinks after,” Jack quipped when diverted to the big changes that have occurred since their playing days.

Arkins noted, “it was a social occasion” and this was met with definite agreement by his colleague who espoused on how the debriefs and sometimes post-mortems among teammates after games in Nagle’s were often more memorable than the action on the field, “It was indeed, you’d be describing a fella hitting a belt, it was so funny, you’d be watching it now it’s grand but even the hurling has changed, you can’t touch anyone or you’ve a yellow card, you’ll be sent off or get a black card, I think it started with the soccer and the fellas inside in Limerick, a fella went to the soccer and he’d know how to fall, that started to happen in the GAA too, a fella would fall down for no reason and start roaring.

“I always remember, Dermot Hogan one day back in Miltown, the one time I got a belt that turned me upside down, I was lying down and I was mad to get up because I was so disappointed but Dermot came over and said ‘stay down’, I said ‘I must get up’ but Dermot was looking for a bit of a breather, it was so funny, that was the way it was, it was great fun”.

They soldiered together in the back-line in the underage ranks and at senior level, they tasted glory in 1950 but came up short in the 1957 and 1958 county semi-finals when going down to a Raymond Clancy inspired Kilrush Shamrocks, John himself scored a goal in the 57 clash when it took two meetings to separate them and the Shams. “Oh in 57 we were blackgarded, the ball hit the side of the net, it never went in at all, it hit the side of the net but Gerry Lynch was in goals that day, he had the habit of walking back and lifting up the net to take up the ball and then he hopped the ball, the umpire was only a young fella and it seems the father was on the sideline watching them, someone from Kilrush shouted that it was a goal and the young fella put up the flag, Tommy Waldron a lovely fella admitted after that it wasn’t,” Jack protested.

Jack began working in Limerick at the beginning of 1951 which took him away from the sport but he was back in action by the time they returned to the last four.

Mention of the special team bus which brought them from Miltown Malbay following their county final win plus the line of cars and bonfires which marked their return and that of the senior championship to the ‘Pope’s Parish’ brings a smile to their faces.

Jack Lynch and John Arkins. Photograph: Joe Buckley

John in particular can recite conversations from that very night of September 3rd 1950. “I can remember it well, Dermot gave a speech in the square, there was a desperate crowd at that game, in those days there was huge crowds. John Joe and Patrick Lynch they were brothers, they were mighty supporters, we were all in the pub together, we had mighty craic, they would describe every kick of the game, I remember John Joe saying to me ‘the wet ball was like catching a sod of turf’”. Fielding during the match had been poor with the greasy leather and heavy underfoot conditions blamed for this.

As well as moving to Limerick, Jack got married, “that finished me altogether,” he said with a smirk. He’s now based in Inagh, “when I went to Inagh first there was nothing there, they had no hurling pitch, JJ Keating across from me on the Ennis side, he was a bachelor living in a big farm, that was the big field and he allowed lads to go in and do a bit of hurling but it was only walloping each other, if you hit a good shot into the river then it was gone, they were only able to drive the ball a short distance so when they went out playing they thought it was fascinating because they could drive the ball. All of a sudden, they’ve developed a beautiful team since joining with Kilnamona”.

Kilfenora has always been home for John a farmer, who has five children, they live across Clare and in Galway with his sons Sean and Joe picking up plenty of injuries while representing Kilfenora, post-playing he served as Chairman while holding roles of manager and selector with plenty of teams within the club. Jack also has five children, three of which are based in the United States and our sit-down prompts him to make a point that he must ask his grand-children Stateside what sports they are involved in.

Back to the field and further smiles eek out when reminiscing on their rivalry with Lisdoonvarna. “They had a great team, I remember one year they had six Gardaí playing with them, you’d to be careful what you did on the field. Mick Greene had some pull with getting Gardaí into the town. They were our biggest rivals in North Clare, it was about the bragging rights” John said. There was something sweet about their meetings, Jack pointed out, “We used to beat them always though and it was lovely to hit a shot on the Gardaí, it was the only time you could hit them with no repercussions”.

Moving West, Miltown and Kilrush always gave tough encounters, Jack recounted, “They controlled it with Sean Guinnane. When we went to Miltown playing the match, you had to beat the ref, the umpires and the linesman, if there was any doubt about the ball going out it was the other side that got it, Kilfenora never did because they were afraid of their life, they played a lovely nice style of football, we used to shove it into them, they used to hate it, it was so funny. We were always the best of friends, that’s what I loved about it, you would kill each other on the field and when it was all over we were the best of friends. It was great to beat Lisdoonvarna just to quieten them for a while”.

They credited Paddy Hennessy’s training with strengthening Miltown but John acknowledged that it was Jack that “calmed down” their half-forward line of John Donnellan, Donie White and Johnny Neville but he observed, “back the West they were all big strong guys”.

Returning to conversations of the 1950 happens for the duo more than you’d think with the topic coming up for Jack following an anniversary mass in Kilfenora three years ago, “we started talking about that game in 1950, they were drawing me about Clahane and their mother with Doonbeg now, I said they were big strong lads with Clahane whereas they’re more refined with Doonbeg”.

He continued, “The 1950 side was some team, they were all lovely footballers, football was lovely at the time, it was tough but that’s what made it good”. Current Clare and Kilfenora footballer, Cian O’Dea is singled out by John as one of the top footballers in the the province. Praise is harder to come by from Jack when asked if O’Dea would make the 1950 team, “He’d hardly be picked, he’d be too soft”.

John Arkins and Jack Lynch. Photograph: Joe Buckley

Arkins remains defiant that O’Dea would have made it despite the lack of comparisons between the styles of play, “It’s a different game, you played your square on the field, you played your man and that was it, mind your patch, beat your man and you’re doing well”.

Down through the years, they have had to bid farewell to their teammates that have passed on before them. They were the youngest members of the 1950 side, “the grace of God,” is what John maintained served as their reason for the present health, “You’ve no say in that, some win and some lose”.

Nonetheless saying goodbye to men they soldiered on the field with has never been easy, “They were all nice fellas. Brian Mahony was the last of them, he died two years ago, he was a fiddle player, he was two years older than us, a lovely man,” John outlined. He then points to a picture of their team which has Tommy Lenihan smoking a fag. This reminds Jack, “the amount you’d smoke at that time was so little because you hadn’t the price of them. Before a match, if they thought you were smoking they’d give out to you. When I came to live in Inagh, they were big horses of men, on the Saturday night over fifty years ago, those big fellas would come in, they were playing the hurling match the next day and they’d play mighty matches, I’d say to myself we must be pure useless because we hadn’t a drink taken and all this training but then I discovered they were Junior B, all these big strong fellas and they belting each other”.

They live in hope that the Jack Daly will return to North Clare. “St Breckan’s last year I thought were shaping up, they are the nearest to it. They are good enough to get over the line. Éire Óg have some very good players but St Breckan’s are as good, without a doubt, they are a nice team to watch. I don’t know what the hell happened against Éire Óg, they were better than what they showed in the semi-final,” John said.

Even though they are Kilfenora through and through, they are eager for a team whether it is St Breckan’s, Ennistymon or Corofin to bridge the 72 year drought. “Oh God, we would, definitely we would love to see it,” John stressed with Jack adding, “anyone from North Clare would be great”. Success like this would be timely according to Arkins, “the danger is with populations dwindling, it needs the lift” and the pair flag that areas such as Kilfenora, Liscannor and O’Currys have very small panels at adult level. “Before everyone in North Clare was playing football, if you could kick a ball at all then you were playing but that has changed. The rules and the refereeing has changed, the same with the hurling it was a lovely game to watch with the sliotar up and down the field,” Jack said.

There is a confidence mixed with the hope for the fortunes of the North Clare sides at senior level tasting success but they are not as optimistic of the chances of Kilfenora returning to the top tier, “We’d only be hopeful. Cian O’Dea is an excellent footballer but he can’t win a match on his own,” John surmised.

Feigning of injuries and playing for frees are features of the current game that irk the duo. Of the falling for frees John said, “You wouldn’t do that in our time, you’d give him a dart” while Jack revealed, “You would want to hurt him but only for that moment in time”. Since leaving Kilfenora, Jack has ironically ended up living in hurling dominated parishes, “I didn’t get the hurling bug because I loved football. The soccer’s touch was a pity” while John interjected, “It took away the love of it a bit, definitely. I don’t get the same kick out of it watching it on television”.

Jack continues the debate, “They go right up to the goal and you’d say, why don’t you kick it over the bar, then they turn around and pass to someone else” with John questioning, “Is it that they are not able to kick it over the bar? The county fellas can be 25 or 30 yards from the goal and they go handpassing to a fella who hits it wide. Clifford in Kerry can do it alright”.

Opting for the fisted or handpass score is “a pity” says Jack while John admitted to being in awe of the fitness levels of the current crop. “But it’s easy for them to be fit, they are only running around but if they got a good dunt that would slow them, that was the idea, hit the good fella and it will slow him up”. “Tommy Casey in his day wing back would do it, that’s for sure,” pipes up John having done his genealogy during the conversation to discover that the man asking him the questions is the grandson of five-time Clare SHC winner with Ruan, the late Tommy Casey. “He would indeed, they had Jimmy Smyth too, a great player, he was a lovely hurler with Ruan and the Leahys, I knew everyone of them at that time,” Jack agreed.

Remarkably the only senior titles won by Ruan and Kilfenora were all achieved during the window of 1941 to 1962. “It was great, we supported each other. Tony Meaney would talk about the old days, the Smyths and the Lyons, big strong men,” John noted. Like their Ruan counterparts, they never suffered any hamstring injuries, “there wasn’t a word about them,” John observed with Jack adding, “but shur everyone was walking and cycling, pushing wheelbarrows, they had bicycles and if you had a puncture you’d to walk. Fellas were as tough as iron, they didn’t mind getting a dart because they would give it themselves and that’s where you would enjoy it”.

If they were given the opportunity to rewind the clock 72 years and do it all over again, they’d jump at the chance and most definitely throw a few dunts along the way. “We would to be sure, every bit of it. It was our life. It’s the friendships, medals are two a penny nowadays, it’s about the friendship. Frank Mahony when he used to come in here playing the fiddle, Christ it was lovely to meet him again,” John concluded.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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