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GAA: The game had only started but the thrill had gone and I knew it; LOUGHNANE EXCLUSIVE: WHY HE DECIDED TO GO.

GER Loughnane knew three minutes into Clare's Guinness Munster hurling championship defeat to Tipperary that it was over.

As the dust settled on an anticipated but still sobering decision by Loughnane to step down as Banner boss after six years he recalled that fateful afternoon in Cork 11 days ago when his mind was made up.

Loughnane told a packed Clare Co. Board meeting late on Tuesday night of his decision when he made an impassioned speech that moved some delegates close to tears.

His reason for leaving is quite simple - he no longer has the appetite. "Even earlier that day on the way to Cork I was doubtful. Usually I'd be mad for road. But that morning I was in two minds," he recalled.

"And the game had only started when I knew I shouldn't have been there. The thrill was gone.

"Even though it was Clare playing Tipp it might as well have been Carlow we were up against. I couldn't get excited.

"Usually I'd be out with my fist up to players encouraging them and willing them on. But it was gone," he reflected.

Loughnane knew coming away from Pairc Ui Chaoimh that evening that it was over for him but waited until Clare chairman Fr. Michael McNamara returned from a week long break in Florida to nail down his decision.

"I wasn't going to be making any instant decisions in the dressing-rooms. A few things had to be sorted out.

"I'm delighted with the way everything has worked out at Co. Board level," he admitted.

"If a replacement wasn't agreed upon there and then it could have lingered on for weeks and months.

"Things could have got divisive, there would have been canvassing and we might end up back at square one after all.

"This way - Cyril Lyons' appointment - there is continuity. He's a great choice and I am delighted he has been so readily accepted. It was a fantastic meeting on Tuesday night, just what the county wanted," said Loughnane.

"I don't see this as an end of an era, I see it as a continuation," he added.

"There are too many good players around Clare stone mad to get going again. Already! We've just been beaten by Tipp and they want to get at it again. I've been talking to them about it. That's a really positive sign," he insisted.

Loughnane had hinted from a long way off that this would be his last year.

Since their All-Ireland win in '97, which he describes as the "fulfillment of a dream," Loughnane has questioned his appetite for the game each year.

In '98 it took him until the team holiday in Hawaii to make up his mind, a year later he decided with selectors Tony Considine and Mike McNamara that they would give it "one last fling."

But last November he took the surprise move of parting company with his three selectors and employing Lyons and Louis Mulqueen to assist him on the sideline.

Clare struggled through the league campaign in spring only winning games they couldn't lose against Antrim, Kerry and Dublin. Critically they lost to Galway, Limerick and Offaly.

In the build up Loughnane had hailed the best ever preparations by a Clare team in his time.

"Everything had gone well in the two months before the Tipp game. In fairness we knew we wouldn't know about ourselves until match day. And that's when we found out the truth. We didn't want it enough.

"It wasn't hard to make a decision. I feel I have no more to give."

Loughnane will walk away from Clare hurling, leaving it in far better condition that when he assumed the reins on the back of a thumping Munster final defeat by Limerick in '94.

But he will always have the memories of a six year roller coaster ride when his words were treated like precious nuggets by players and journalists alike.

His outstanding memory from a glorious six years, strangely does not encompass any of the three Munster titles or two All-Irelands that they won.

It was Sunday August 9, 1998, the Sunday after the week that was, when he had taken to the local airwaves to defend Clare's honour in the midst of the Colin Lynch affair.

Willing the Clare crowd to travel in greater numbers than ever before and risking the wrath of Croke Park officials if he broke his touchline ban there was a surreal atmosphere in headquarters that day, an atmosphere of expectancy which reached a crescendo when Loughnane emerged from the tunnel to a raputurous reception.

"As long as I live I'll never forget that day, the reception, the noise of the Clare people. It had been a tough week but to me it was something special to hear it in an Irish sports arena.

"The welcome they gave the Clare team that day was memorable. After the week that was it was an amazing show of support for the team and for me for the stance I took. I will always be grateful for that and I'll always remember that."

Lyons has his seal of approval and Loughnane was quick to reflect on his contribution both this year and in '95, his last as a player.

"In '95 Cyril was always the last man to speak before we left the dressing-room. He said some stirring things. Even this year any of the players will tell you about the contribution he made.

Daly: I'll never forget the no surrender chant

WITH sweat pouring from his forehead, veins bursting in his neck and all I can describe as madness in his eyes I can still see him saying it.

For me those nine words will always ring loudly in my ears when I reflect on Ger Loughnane and the last six years.

Half-time in the '95 Munster final against Limerick and we were all shouting and screaming and roaring. I was talking, Tony Considine was talking, Mike Mac - we were all trying to get a word in.

As the pandemonium unfolded Loughnane stood in stony silence. We had lost the previous two Munster finals but this time we felt we were closer than ever before.

We really were within reaching distance of a Munster final - just 35 minutes away from what we could only dream about before this moment.

All week people had been saying to us that 'this was the time' and 'this was the hour.' There was an air of finality to it - that it was now or never.

We had done well in the first half and now we wanted to preserve.

As we prepared to go out for the second half Loughnane broke his silence, gathered us around, clenched his fist and roared those immortal words.

Ian Paisley eat your heart out! Everyone in the dressing-room roared 'No Surrender' back and with that we stormed back onto the field.

Brian Lohan was roaring like a bull behind me! I knew we couldn't be beaten.

Ger Loughnane leaves a legacy behind him that he has always aspired to as a player and then as a manager - respect for Clare, nothing else.

Love us or hate us we always want to be hard to beat, we always want to take pride in our peformance and we always want to be competitive. As Meath are to football, we want to be to hurling. Ger made no secret of that.

There will be days when Clare will travel more in hope than confidence again. But there will always be a feeling that 'we might,' it will never be 'we won't.'

That's Loughnane's legacy. He gave us our pride, he gave the county of Clare a stronger identity. Now we're known across the country for something more than our music and nice coastal villages. Thanks to Ger it should always be that way.

There's something of a militarist in him when it comes to hurling - he saw us as the troops going out to defend Clare.

That afternoon when he roared 'No Surrender' encapsulates the man more than anything else for me. He changed the face of Clare hurling with his training regimes and impassioned speeches.

But for me he also had a personal touch which left a lot of the players feeling good about themselves at various times.

Of course he had a ruthless touch too. He hauled off players when he felt they weren't pulling their weight in front of 40,000 spectators.

But when he had to he would defend those players to the hilt. We only have to look back at '98 for evidence of that.

To this day and to any day I will always say that he took the right stance in defending Colin Lynch. Every last one of us we're behind him on it.

There was unity there that will always keep us together. In 20 years time when we'll meet for golf outings it will be '98 we will reflect upon most, not '95 or '97.

He was willing to do whatever it took to win. I still don't agree with his decision to pull the U-21 players in 1995 for the title match against Tipp. If the lads played they would have won. But ultimately we won an All-Ireland senior title. That was the sacrafice.

He hated losing. As a player he would fight to the end. Even if Clare were losing by 10 points. I didn't believe him in the dressing-room in Thurles after the '95 league final defeat when he told us we'd still win the Munster championship.

Five years on you'd tend to take him for his word now however. No surrender!
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Keys, Colm
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 22, 2000
Words:1611
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