By Anthony Daly
In October 1996, Clare travelled to Belfast for the official opening of the Patrick Sarsfields club’s new pitch on Stewartstown Avenue, a two-day event, based around a challenge game against Antrim on the Sunday.
We flew up from Shannon on the Saturday at 7.30am, arriving into the clubhouse just after 10. They had breakfast laid on for us, a huge fry, which we intended to wash down with pots of tea and pints of water.
Then one of the locals ordered a pint. A few of us looked at each other with that blank stare of suggestion, like an exclamation mark to highlight how we were all thinking along the same lines. We went for it. A round of drinks, for breakfast.
Shortly afterwards, the BBC Ulster TV cameras, and a reporter arrived into the clubhouse to do a feature on the Clare team which had been All-Ireland champions just 13 months earlier.
We were a story in town, but we must have looked like some sorry sight. As the camera zoomed in to me, I was washing the salt from the rashers down my mouth with a pint of cider.
Can you imagine if there was social media back then?
It was a different world, when a trip away was an opportunity to cut loose. Lads wouldn’t touch a drop of Fanta now the day before a challenge game, but you don’t need drink to loosen your tongue and to lighten up.
I’m not being critical of modern players but I think the digital age has siphoned lads abilities to create the fun and craic we used to have.
Of course lads have different ways of connecting with people but those connections can’t be as sustained or as natural when players are routinely buried in their smart-phones, lost in a world of social media, or communicating through emojis and picture stickers.
Maybe we were just a bit madder and wilder back in our time, although the modern young players now might look on us as being old school. Sometimes though, old school is the best school.
The bonds and the friendships formed from that trip to Belfast are still as strong today. That’s the real heart of the GAA, but the trips away with your own group open a different window into the soul of your own squad.
Inter-county panels go on far more training camps now than we ever did but a trip away at the end of a season, especially after you’ve won something, is the real cherry on top of the cake.
Of course lads go mad. We do daft things. But it’s the unplanned, unscripted stuff that’s the real gold.
The hours spent chatting, golfing, sipping cold ones and eating with fellas you might not have known that well outside of hurling is even more enjoyable when you find out more about them, about their character. That’s what team holidays should really be all about.
Of course, you get to see the other side of lads too, when limits no longer apply and limitless is the new norm, when players used to internal laws and rules become lawless, where control is replaced with recklessness.
The craziest team holiday I was ever on was with Clarecastle after we won the 1997 Munster club title. It was absolutely lawless. Reckless.
Rules went out the window. Anything we were supposed not to do – in bars, golf clubs, nightclubs, restaurants, go-kart centres, swimming parks – we did.
A few of our supporters went on that trip and one of them used to lose the run of himself when he was steamed in the afternoon – he’d do a strip-tease in the middle of the bar. It was nearly ‘Full Monty’ stuff. The locals were almost setting their clocks by him to see the show.
One of the real perks of being on a successful team, or teams, is the trips away that success can secure. When I first started out with Clare, we, as Division 2 champions, were devastated to lose a 1990 league playoff with Kerry, who were Division 3 champions. It was nearly worse than losing a championship match because there was a trip to London for the winners.
Foreign holidays back then existed on the far side of the abyss. Training camps abroad were even more of a distant fantasy. We’d been conditioned in Crusheen and on the hill in Shannon, penal institutions, where the beatings continued until morale improved.
After reaching the 1993 Munster final, a few of us approached the county board to see if we could fund-raise for a holiday, just to try and strengthen morale even more. We were told, in no uncertain terms, we had to win something first.
When we eventually did, we went to Thailand in the winter of 1995. It was a crazy holiday. We spent three nights in Bangkok and ten nights in Pattaya. It was a mad world. I never saw anything like it.
We cut loose. When we ate in the restaurants in the hotel, we were all going by the names of Pat O’Donnell, the team sponsor, and Tom Mannion, the late tour operator. It was lunacy.
You’d have nearly bought a house with the amount of digits we were clocking up. On the day we were checking out, Pat and Tom had to settle a bill for a couple of hundred pizzas, and more bottles of wine than you’d produce in a vineyard.
Pat wasn’t impressed but Tom took it in great spirits. Johnny Callinan, who was with us as part of the holiday committee, had been tipped off. He had a credit card that would draw money out of the holiday fund for emergencies.
I was lucky I even made it home from that holiday. Brian Lohan nearly killed me with a jet-ski. Having Fergal Hegarty on the back of it at the time was totally against the rules but we were a law unto ourselves.
Fergie ‘Tuts’ Tuohy and Stephen Sheedy decided to be more adventurous. We were told not to go beyond the bay on the jet-skis, but just like school, the two boys had to bend the rules.
They disappeared off in to the distance like two dots. You could go about a mile on the jet-ski before it would run out of diesel but it looked like they were headed for India. And Sheedy couldn’t even swim.
Sure enough, the boys were soon stranded like apes. They managed to chug-chug the two jet-skis in close to some rocks until they conked out and collapsed on their side.
They had life-jackets on and Tuts dragged Sheedy in to the shore. They cut their feet to ribbons on the rocks and found themselves in the middle of nowhere, hardly able to walk.
By this stage, your man who rented out the jet-skis was going bananas. Deep down, we were worried sick. We were picturing the two boys at the bottom of the ocean or being torn apart by some shark for breakfast.
The jet-ski operator took off on this speed-boat. A few minutes later, he arrived back pulling the jet-skis behind him and no sign of the two boys. Holy Jesus, total panic set in. It looked like Jaws must have had a right feast.
As time passed, the anxiety levels were rapidly increasing. Next thing we heard Lazarus behind us.
“It’s a f***ing rip-off,” said Tuohy. “Twenty quid for those yokes, and not enough diesel in them.”
Tuohy and Sheedy had stumbled upon some construction site and got a lift back to the hotel on the side of a lorry.
They left a trail of blood on the pristine polished lobby floor before smearing the manicured lawn at the back of the hotel as they made their way back on to the beach. Sure enough, we were ran out of that place.
The county board hardly expected us to go to museums or the temples. The steady flow of alcohol, and being in another country, naturally gave guys more of a licence to be more irresponsible.
At the end of 1998, Clare went to Gran Canaria a week , with three nights in London on the way out.
Loughnane had to come home early from that trip because his father John James had sadly passed away, he hadn’t even come to London for the first two nights So he left me in charge of that bit, not good ! Ger gave me a few cheques to settle the hotel bill and pay for dinners, along with an explicit warning that there was to be no pay-per-view TV.
We were staying in this palatial hotel in Kensington. There was this huge fountain just inside the door, with all these tropical fish swimming around the water at base level.
There was more fish in it than an aquarium. I remember looking at it when I was checking in and saying to myself, “Holy Jesus, this could go any way.”
On the second night, Fergal Hegarty Frank Lohan and I ended up in ‘The Swan in Stockwell’. We got home at some ungodly hour. I was stuck to the bed when the phone rang in the room at 9am. It was the hotel manager, a Mr Charlemagne, who was of Asian descent.
“Mr Daly, would you please come to my office please.”
I knew exactly where this was going.
“I’ll be down in a few minutes bud. Is there anything wrong?”
“Yes.” Mr Charlemagne replied. “They try to kill fish.”
When I arrived downstairs and announced myself to Mr Charlemagne, he led me over to the scene of the crime.
He outlined how some of the lads had tried to assassinate flipper junior and his army of small friends. They used heavy bundles of Sunday newspapers as depth charges. Some of the papers were so thick they’d have taken out a salmon. They must have been scraping exotic fish off the bottom of the tank all morning.
In my own mind, I identified the three main suspects immediately. I cornered one of them.
“I had nothing to do with it,” he claimed.
“I bet you suggested it though?”
“Well, I’ll show you what they were at,” he said, which was a total admittance of guilt. They were more or less teasing each other. “I bet you won’t get the big lad there with the fancy pink spots.”
The fish they were trying to take out could have been worth a couple of hundred quid . I just signed the cheque and ran.
It was mostly innocent stuff but we were all inclined to drop our guard when we were away. When we went to the US West Coast and Hawaii after winning the 1997 All-Ireland. Tom Mannion, God rest him, got us into this Jack Nicklaus designed course, a real posh place.
There was a strict dress code but it was a roasting day and Loughnane whipped his shirt off after about the second hole. One of the rangers tore down on a golf buggy and told Loughnane to put his top back on.
Loughnane did but the ranger was gone about 100 yards when he took it off again. The ranger came back about four times before he issued his final warning.
“If you don’t put your shirt back on, I’ll have to eject you from the course.”
Loughnane had no real interest in golf around that time. He had less interest in abiding by rules. It was just as well the ranger wasn’t following Loughnane around the whole time. You were supposed to keep the buggies on the margins of the fairways but Loughnane drove his straight up the middle of every fairway.
Ger was the law. He’d take on anyone but that competitive nature can be hard to contain too, especially when you’re on somebody else’s turf.
Lads are more streetwise now but you’d see the innocent side to some of them too on those holiday, especially the younger lads who were probably never away in a group holiday before.
After we won the league with Dublin in 2011, we went to Las Vegas that winter. I remember chatting to three of the younger lads one night at a casino.
“It’s unreal here Dalo,” they said “we’re getting free drink all night.” I informed them that the reason they were being laced with free liquor was because they were getting cleaned out at a black-jack table.
Lads are certainly more vulnerable in a different setting, especially if drink has got a hold of them. When I was lucky enough to be asked to manage one of the teams on the All-Stars trip to Austin, Texas in December 2014, one of the Dublin players on that trip came to me for advice one afternoon.
His love life had been in turmoil at home but he had met this beautiful Mexican barmaid. After she had landed a string of cocktails on his table, they got chatting. The former Dublin player told me he was in love. He wanted me to meet her, to seek my approval. I cut straight to the chase.
If you tell her you fancy her, she may not be able to understand you. Does she even speak English?
One thing I’ve always felt very privileged through the GAA is the huge opportunities it has given us. All-Stars, All-Ireland, Munster and county medals are fantastic to have but most of us don’t know where our medals are.
It’s the craic and the fun and the golden memories from those times which stay burned in your memory.
The squad trips away to foreign lands are long behind me now, but we’re still fortunate to have one trip to look forward to every year. We don’t go as far – Cork, Dingle, Kilkenny, Tullamore, Galway – but we still meet up with our former Clare teammates, to play a round of golf and just hang out together.
A group of 15 or 16 lads normally play the golf but another crew who have no interest in belting golf balls will arrive afterwards and we’ll spend the evening telling old stories and stoking the embers from distant days when we felt like kings. The settings are much calmer.
The environment is more sedate but the craic and the fun is still every bit as good. Because no matter where you are, those unbreakable bonds, that camaraderie of the group, the sense of common purpose and friendship is always the stitching which binds everyone together.