RTÉ One, Thursday, 7.00pm

Scannal - Long Hot Summer

Clare County Crest
Clare County Crest
Offaly County Crest
Offaly County Crest

Monday 17th March 19.30hrs RTÉ ONE

When the Clare hurling team won All Ireland glory after a gap of 81 years in 1995, there were scenes of unparalleled joy, not only in the Banner County, but all over Ireland. Two years later, in 1997, they repeated the miracle and in 1998, they seemed set fair for their third All Ireland in four years. They seemed to be way ahead of everyone else and it was impossible to imagine that anyone could stop them. But the impossible sometimes happens.

"Scannal" tells the almost incredible story of the hurling summer of 1998. It was a summer full of incident and controversy, punishments and suspensions, resignations and High Court injunctions, and no small amount of hurling. In the end, Clare were defeated and Offaly took the McCarthy Cup.

It all began with the Munster Final on the 12th of July in Semple Stadium, Thurles. A highly fancied Clare team took on Munster's latest pretenders, Waterford.

"We felt that the way we were going to beat Clare was to meet fire with fire, and I suppose, somewhere along the way, sparks were going to fly".

Fergal Hartley, Waterford hurler

It was a hard physical contest and the Claremen were visibly shocked by Waterford's approach. Hurleys were splintered and insults were traded at an alarming rate. The game ended in a draw and the replay was set for July 19th. This time Clare would be ready.

Before the ball was thrown in for the replay, players were swinging at each other all over the field. At the throw-in, Colin Lynch swung his hurley in all directions, hitting the three players around him.

"I suppose he was wired. He probably had a poor game in the drawn match and he was mad determined that it wasn't going to happen to him again. I suppose he just let fly".

Anthony Daly, Clare Captain

"The blame for that incident lies beyond Colin Lych. He was wound up and he snapped the minute the ball was thrown in".

Fergal Hartley, Waterford hurler

Brian Lohan of Clare and Micheál White of Waterford were involved in a brawl and were both sent off. Colin Lynch and Tony Browne struck each other and both were booked. All in all, it was a bad tempered affair which Clare won easily. Anthony Daly raised the Munster Cup but the trophy seemed tarnished by events on the field.

"It was as intense and as close to hatred as you could possibly get between two counties."

Fergal Hartley, Waterford hurler

The following day, Sportscall was inundated with calls from GAA fans who were disgusted with events in Thurles. Most of the callers blamed Clare for the violent scenes. Pressure mounted on the Munster Council and the GAA to do something about it.

"It wasn't just the public. There were people in the GAA, officials and such like, who were saying that something must be done".

Seán Kelly, Chairman of the Munster Council in 1998

The Munster Council of the GAA met and charged Colin Lynch with "repeated striking with the hurley". A furious Ger Loughnane went on Clare FM and gave a 70 minute interview. He talked about Clare being treated like "absolute criminals" and compared the Munster Council to the infamous Gestapo.

"Is there a Gestapo-type police force operating withing the GAA keeping an eye on Ger Loughnane so that if he crosses the line he's going to be banned the next day?"

Ger Loughnane, Clare Manager, speaking on RTÉ in July 1998.

The hurling summer's descent into farce was well underway. Colin Lynch tried and failed to get a High Court injunction against the Munster Council's Games and Activities Committee, and the Munster Council duly suspended Lynch for three months. Clare were due to play Offaly in an All Ireland Semi-Final two days later. The comings and goings of the previous few weeks were hardly the ideal preparation for Clare, but Offaly had problems of their own.

When Kilkenny defeated Offaly in the Leinster Final on the 5th of July, Offaly's manager, Babs Keating said the Offaly players were "running around like sheep in a heap". These comments were splashed all over the papers and caused outrage in Offaly, particularly as Keating was a Tipperary man.

Offaly player Johnny Pilkington gave an interview to the Irish Independent in which he took issue with his manager. Babs Keating's days as Offaly Manager were numbered.

"As an Offaly man, I don't like anybody giving out about our players. I have to say that the marriage was over. It could not be saved".

Brendan Ward, Chairman of Offaly County Board, speaking in 1998

Keating resigned and Michael Bond of Galway took over. Offaly defeated Antrim in the All Ireland Quarter-Final and booked a date to meet Clare in the semi-final. This ended in a draw but the replay on August 9th would make headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In the replay, Clare were leading by three points when referree Jimmy Cooney blew the whistle for full-time. Unfortunately, he had blown up early.

"And the referree has blown up his whistle but I think he's blown up before time.on my watch here, there are another two minutes to go".

Ger Canning, RTÉ Television Commentator, reacts to Cooney's final whistle

Despite Clare's lead of three points, Offaly had a legitimate complaint. They were notable for their last-minute comebacks, the most famous example being the All Ireland Final of 1994 when they crushed Limerick in the last few minutes.

"The statement was that you hadn't Offaly beaten until the Sunday Game was over".

Johnny Pilkington, Offaly hurler

The Offaly fans invaded the pitch as security staff escorted Jimmy Cooney to his dressing room. Meanwhile, the players weren't too sure where they stood.

"We were looking out the window at all the Offaly supporters sitting on the field. Johnny Pilkington was having a fag and he said: 'Wouldn't you think they'd go off for an ould drink?'"

Anthony Daly, Clare Captain

The Games Administration Committee of the GAA ordered a re-match to take place in Thurles the following Saturday. The third match between Clare and Offaly was an epic with the honours going to the Midlanders. For the men of Clare and their fans, defeat by Offaly was a terrible and overwhelming shock.

"I was crying getting onto the bus, fighting back tears in case people would see you. The whole emotion of the year was catching up then and they clapped us onto the bus.

Anthony Daly, Clare Captain

Two weeks later, the long hot summer of 1998 came to an amazing end when Offaly defeated Kilkenny to win the All Ireland Final.

"Everyone gets their day in the sun!"

Johnny Pilkington, Offaly hurler

The summer of 1998 turned golden for Offaly's "sheep in a heap", but for Clare, it brought nothing but tears of bitter regret!

Presenter / Reporter Garry Mac Donncha

Producer / Director Seán Ó Méalóid

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