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'When it turned against, us it was like an avalanche'

Ennis was easily the weirdest experience of Daly's tenure and the scene of a most disappointing loss

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OLD FRIENDS: Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald (left) and Dublin manager Anthony Daly shake hands before the game in Ennis in 2012. Photo: Sportsfile

OLD FRIENDS: Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald (left) and Dublin manager Anthony Daly shake hands before the game in Ennis in 2012. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

OLD FRIENDS: Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald (left) and Dublin manager Anthony Daly shake hands before the game in Ennis in 2012. Photo: Sportsfile

The weirdness of managing against Clare was as palpable as it was inevitable for Anthony Daly. It wasn't simply due to him wearing blue and navy, stalking the same line as someone in his old saffron and blue, although that was obviously part of it.

No, the most obvious source of awkwardness was his familiarity with the people involved.

All of them. Clare hurling isn't a particularly broad parish. They are, however, a fanatical congregation. And Daly was once the high priest.

The first occasion on which he managed against Clare came in the League of 2009, Daly's maiden spring campaign, when Dublin had the chance to relegate a Banner side managed by Mike McNamara - Ger Loughnane's uncompromising drill sergeant from Clare's glory era of the mid-to-late nineties.

Ollie Baker and Alan Cunningham were part of McNamara's backroom team, just as they had Daly's back during his stint as Clare manager between 2003 and '06.

John Callinan, a Clarecastle clubmate and a former Clare player himself, texted Daly the night before the game referencing Denis Law's famous back-heeled goal for Manchester City that relegated the club at which he had made his legend, Manchester United.

'The Denis Law theory?' Daly replied. 'Sure, I'm a Tottenham fan.'

In 2010, when he faced his home county for the first time in a Championship game, Ger 'Sparrow' O'Loughlin, a childhood friend and All-Ireland winning team-mate, was Clare's manager.

That was in Croke Park, though. Dublin won by 13 points.

And even if Daly had just recorded his first big win as Dublin manager at the expense of his own county, he was spared any flak locally on account of the meek nature of Clare's surrender.

Ennis in 2012 was completely different. Like the others, it was undeniably strange for Daly, due to the colours and the people. But mostly it was about the place.

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NO WAY PAST: Dublin’s David Treacy is tackled by Conor Cooney of Clare
during the match in 2012. Photo: SPORTSFILE

NO WAY PAST: Dublin’s David Treacy is tackled by Conor Cooney of Clare during the match in 2012. Photo: SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

NO WAY PAST: Dublin’s David Treacy is tackled by Conor Cooney of Clare during the match in 2012. Photo: SPORTSFILE

"I knew I was facing into an emotive tornado," Daly wrote in his autobiography. "And I walked into the teeth of it."

Clarecastle, where Daly grew up, is roughly eight minutes' drive from Ennis.

The building at 36 O'Connell Street, where Daly owned a sports retail shop until earlier in 2012, is just three minutes' walk from Clare's rustic home ground.

Few Clare players in history subscribed to Cusack Park's mythology as much as Daly - and few had fought as furiously to protect its sanctity.

In a column last year for the Irish Examiner, Daly wrote about comments he had read in an online forum calling the ground "toxic".

"My attitude would be 'keep it toxic'. I'm not advocating hurling hooliganism or firing flares into the away supporters but you want the opposition thinking that this is the last place you want to come to when you're looking for a win," he said.

"Thurles, Páirc Uí Chaoimh and the Gaelic Grounds certainly don't carry that same fear factor for visiting teams."

This was the situation into which he would lead Dublin. And in typical Daly fashion, he opted for the Biblical approach.

Dublin were based in the Temple Gate Hotel, in the middle of town.

"I told my players that my long-dead father had graced the same place before a big game, he had made the same journey that we were going to make now," he recalled in Dalo, his 2015 autobiography.

"We were going to march up through the town, through my own people. It was not in my DNA to bring a team to Clare to go to war against them. But I told the players, 'By God, I am willing to do this for ye.'

"When we left the hotel to make the journey by foot, I led the posse.

"Some people were half shocked. Others were seeking a response, but they knew not to look at me twice.

"I was charged up on a cocktail of emotion and tension."

On reaching the dressing-room, Daly had to compose himself for five minutes. Meanwhile, he recalled, the war cry from the Clare dressing-room: "They're after walking up through our town. Who the f*** do they think they are?"

Clearly, Daly was overcome with the emotional strain of the day and now, eight years after his last start for Dublin, Maurice O'Brien recalls the bizarre preamble to the game a little differently.

"I didn't feel it was all that hostile myself," he says.

"There had been a few jibes but nothing major. We were probably geared for much worse than we got.

"We'd always heard about Ennis being this tough place to go. But it didn't feel it at the start. It really didn't."

***********

Dublin were relegated in 2012. They'd gone from competition champions to second tier in the space of 12 months and given their infancy as a front-line hurling force, it fuelled the theory that winning the League and making an All-Ireland semi-final represented an over-achievement for 2011.

Their Leinster semi-final performance in an 18-point defeat to Kilkenny doused that notion in paraffin.

This was the back drop of their trip to Ennis.

All week, they'd listened to talk that the pressure of expectancy had burdened them.

And it's why, early in the second half, with Dublin six points up and the home crowd about to quietly accept the end of their hurling summer, Daly might have felt he'd get out of Cusack Park with the ideal outcome: a bloodless win.

Then Nicky O'Connell was sent off for a second yellow card for a reckless challenge on Danny Sutcliffe.

Clare had their cause.

"It was if the Park had been transformed into the Türk Telekom Arena in Istanbul, where Galatasaray play. And we felt like Fenerbahçe on the run," Daly recalled.

The locals howled at the moon at the injustice of it all and their young team rose with the energy.

"When it turned against us, it was like an avalanche," recalls O'Brien now.

"There was no stopping it. No turning it back.

"It was a strange sensation. I had started. And I was just going off as it was turning. But you could feel it going against us.

"You felt a little bit of 'f**, here it goes.' Even with 15 or 20 minutes to go, even though we were up, it had that weird sensation that it was gone and we couldn't get it back.

"The game had turned. The atmosphere had turned. The crowd had turned. F***, it was a strange one.

"Because up until that, everything had been going so smoothly. Exactly as we had planned.

"We were steeled for fire and it didn't come from them at all.

"We were cruising. Very much cruising.

Tony Kelly, on the occasion of his Championship debut just a year out of the minor ranks, got 1-2 (1f).

With each score, so the Clare crowd grew in voice, cajoled by a frantic Davy Fitzgerald.

Dublin wilted. They couldn't make any ball stick up front. They lost by three, but as O'Brien admits now "it was probably a three-point hammering."

"We were on the road a while then. We had beaten Clare in Croke Park a couple of years before," he points out.

"We would definitely have seen ourselves as being better than Clare at that time.

"Now, they had a good team. They were winning Under-21 All-Irelands. That was Tony Kelly's first year. It was probably the start of that team. They had confidence.

"But it wasn't any lack of experience on our part. We just couldn't turn it back."

"It was an awful one to take."

Scorers - Clare: C McGrath 0-5 (4f), T Kelly 1-2 (1-0f), J Conlon 0-4, D Honan, S Collins 0-2 each, S Morey 0-1. Dublin: P Ryan 0-9 (8f, 1 '65'), M O'Brien 0-2, N Corcoran, D Sutcliffe, A McCrabbe (1f), D Sutcliffe, D Treacy 0-1 each.

Clare: P Kelly, D O'Donovan, C Dillon, C Cooney, B Bugler, P Donnellan, N O'Connell, S Morey, S Collins, F Lynch, J Clancy, T Kelly, J Conlon, C McGrath, D Honan. Subs: P O'Connor for Cooney, C Galvin for Clancy, C Ryan for Honan, A Cunningham for Lynch.

Dublin: G Maguire, N Corcoran, P Kelly, T Brady, R Treanor, J Boland, M Carton, J McCaffrey, M O'Brien, R O'Dwyer, L Rushe, D Sutcliffe, P Ryan, D Treacy, A McCrabbe. Subs: D O'Callaghan for O'Dwyer, S Durkan for McCaffrey, N McMorrow for Ryan, S Lambert for O'Brien, R O'Carroll for Treacy.