Paddy McNamara

By Diarmuid O’Flynn

The glory days of Newmarket on Fergus may be in the distant past but their achievements of yesteryear still demand huge respect from those who know their Clare hurling.

“There are fellas in Newmarket who have more county senior hurling medals than all of our starting team combined,” Cratloe manager Joe McGrath acknowledged ahead of tomorrow’s senior championship decider against the former giants of the Banner.

One such fella is ‘Paddy McNamara clare’, former Newmarket, Clare and Munster star, a man who was front and centre when Newmarket-on-Fergus were winning 13 county titles in their golden period between 1963 and 1981.

They didn’t just dominate the Clare championship, they owned it. Three-in-a-row twice (63/64/65, 67/68/69), four-in-a-row once (71/72/73/74), Munster champions twice (67/68), in a county with so many traditionally strong hurling clubs this was a dominance to match that of Mount Sion in Waterford, Thurles Sars in Tipperary, Ahane in Limerick, Glen Rovers in Cork, during all their golden periods.

But such dominance didn’t come about by accident insists McNamara.

He revealed: “Fitness, that was the difference. We had a lad, Lord have mercy on him, Jimmy Halpin, who was very advanced. He was from Newmarket and was one of the first around to focus on fitness. Before that it was all man-to-man stuff but he was kind of a fanatic on fitness.

“Michael Arthur was another man, he played a bit of rugby with Shannon where fitness and strength was very much a focus and he brought that across with him. For a long time our fitness levels were much better than everyone else but then of course they started to close the gap. The school was very important, Pádraic Cribbin started them off there before handing over to Jimmy Halpin, Michael Arthur and different fellas up along the line. We had Shannon with us that time too, Wolfe Tones weren’t there yet (formed in 1967) so we had a bigger pick than most places.”

They had a host of rivals, beating different teams at different times to win all those titles, but ‘The Blues’ were very much the kings. “The matches were a bit rougher back then, I can tell you, it’s a much nicer game now. You had The Bridge (Sixmilebridge), Clarecastle, Ruan, Whitegate, Crusheen — all the teams that are there now were there then also. Eire Óg from the town were very strong but they’re gone down a small bit at the moment.”

As is natural in that kind of situation (it’s happening at inter-county level now with Kilkenny) it got to the stage where everyone inside Clare bar the Newmarket people themselves wanted to see them beaten, an end put to their gallop.

Not that it bothered McNamara, then or now. “That’s only natural when you’ve been winning so much. You’ll be very popular inside your own parish of course but not outside, I would imagine.”

When it finally happened though, in 1981, it was as though Newmarket had fallen off a cliff. Not another county title added to their roll-leading 22 since then, not even another final appearance until they lost in 2006 – ironically – to Wolfe Tones, the breakaway club from Shannon.

“A lot of us left together,” Paddy explains, “Getting old, getting on, and they weren’t properly replaced.”

Now they’re back, in their third final of recent years and looking dangerous again.

“We’ve been strong again lately with a fabulous bunch of youngsters.

“We’ve won a lot of minor (2007 & 2010) and U21 titles (2004/05/06) up along with the guys that are there now. If we win, then for those guys it’ll be winning it for the first time, none of them would have remembered the last time we won. They have no idea what it’s like to win but it would be great to see them do it. It won’t be easy though, Cratloe are a fine team.”

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