The most popular sports in County Clare (as in most of Ireland outside the cities) are those controlled by the G.A.A. (Gaelic Athletic Association), i.e. hurling and Gaelic football. Some counties are associated almost exclusively with one or the other (e.g. Kilkenny and hurling), while a number are equally proficient at both. Clare is one of these.
The county can be divided, for G.A.A. purposes, into two regions: draw a line North to South through Ennis; to the west of the line is mainly football, to the east is mainly hurling. For most of the century Clare was equally diligent at each, without being particularly successful at either.
Thus the county had garnered only one All-Ireland title (in hurling, 1914) along with a modest handful of provincial titles, and would be regarded as being well down the pecking order in each sport, producing the occasional outstanding individual performance but never heavy enough to produce a serious team. In the seventies things began to change. A local priest Fr. Harry Bohan took charge of the hurling team and surprised everyone by winning two National League titles (the secondary national hurling competition) back to back and losing the final of a third, but this fine team broke up without having made the big breakthrough by winning the Munster (provincial) title.
Next it was the turn of football. John Maughan, a County Mayo army officer stationed in Clare managed and trained the Clare football team to win the Munster title in 1992, and were deeply unlucky to lose to Dublin by a dubious goal in th All-Ireland semi-final in Dublin's home ground of Croke Park. This was the most remarkable break-through by a team of outsiders since Offaly burst onto the hurling scene ten years previously. However it turned out to be a one shot wonder: the Clare footballers were unable to repeat the feat despite a number of valiant efforts and currently stand at about third (out of six) in the provincial pecking order. (c.2000)
Next came the turn of the hurlers again. A very fine half-back in the successful team of the seventies came to manage the county hurling team, in succession to Len Gaynor of Tipperary, who had worked to lay the foundations of later success without much luck. This was Ger Loughnane, who will always be associated more than anyone else with the renaissance of Clare hurling. Under Len Gaynor Clare had been threatening to break out of Munster for a number of years but never managed to progress beyond the provincial final; under Loughnane the county astonished the world of hurling and upset predictions by progressing triumphantly through Munster and on to All-Ireland victory in 1995, defeating Offaly in a highly emotional final by 1-17 to 2-13.
For the rest of the decade, County Clare were a real force in hurling; they won another All-Ireland in 1997 with virtually the same team, and in every other year (except 1996, when they were caught cold by their ancient rivals Limerick) have have been a force to be reckoned with. Clare is now firmly established as one of the big three in Munster (along with Cork, the 1999 champions, and Tipperary) and now that the format of the competition has been changed to allow both finalists to progress beyond the provincial level, are likely to feature on the national stage into the future. However Munster is the most competitive of the provinces, with the aforementioned big three and Waterford snapping at their heels, as well as Limerick, a traditional power in the game having won 17 Munster titles and 7 All Irelands albeit the last one won back in 1973. One worrying feature is that Clare have been comparatively unsuccessful at underage level, but underage success is not necessarily a guarantee of success at senior level.
As regards excitement and colour Clare have been the team of the nineties, their huge travelling support bringing music, charm and enthusiasm to every occasion. Whether the present fine team, on the go without a break since 1995, can maintain the enthusiasm for further campaigns in the new millenium remains to be seen.