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Iggy Clarke – A Master Galway 1970's/80's Hurler
One of Galway’s greatest ever hurlers, Ignatius Vincent Clarke, born at Castlenancy, Gurtymadden, in the parish of Mullagh,Co. Galway, in 1952, is one of a select group of former G.A.A. players, just like the terrible twins, Purcell and Stockwell of Tuam Stars, from the same county of Galway, whose names are inked in the history of gaelic games.
Better known as just “IGGY” all over Ireland, the life and times of the famous hurler took on a new chapter, when he decided to leave the priesthood in the late 1990’s and live the rest of his life as an ordinary citizen. That momentous decision required major soul searching and during his great days as a Galway hurler in the 1970’s and 80’s, all hurling fans around Ireland addressed the Mullagh native as Fr. Iggy.
As curate, and later as administrator of Loughrea, where he spent his entire 17 years of clerical life, Fr. Iggy was probably the most revered and respected cleric of his generation by his flock, and many believed he was destined to become their Bishop in due course. The momentous decision to leave the priesthood was made in such a professional manner and sanctioned by the local community without a whisper, it enabled Iggy to turn over a new page, for a new life, and when I hosted a SportsLife Tribute Show on the 14th March 2014 in Loughrea,Co. Galway, the reception afforded one of natures gentlemen, was a joy to behold.
Legends of hurling from far off counties mingled with former Galway hurlers, especially the Galway 1980 All Ireland champion team, and such a glorious welcome is reserved only, for former players held in great esteem by their peers. Iggy Clarke’s big night was a revelation and truly memorable as a great moment in the life and times of Iggy Clarke.
He was inducted into The All Ireland Hall Of Fame Online Gallery foremost, for his reputation around the hurling globe, as a former hurler who earned universal respect for his natural ability and gracious style, but equally as a supreme sportsman, who played all his games in the true spirit of gamesmanship. Iggy had no detractors on or off the field, before and after any match in which he exhibited his unique skills, and his skills were in abundance.
Galway hurlers were languishing in the Munster arena all through the 1960’s and the prospects of claiming national titles were remote. In 1970 Galway were again Connacht’s main aspirations to claim hurling’s great prizes and the Tribesmen and Iggy took on Cork in the All Ireland minor hurling final and the rebel county took the honours. Meantime a new zest was emerging as Galway mentors, Frank Fahy and Pat Robinson, combined their hurling knowledge and began instilling a new belief and most importantly, a new respect for the Galway hurlers.
No longer taken as second class sportsmen in their county, Frank and Pat took on a hazardous journey, rallied the young hurlers and won Galway’s first ever All Ireland under 21 hurling title in 1972, and steering the squad as captain, was the great Iggy Clarke, who was now studying for the priesthood at Maynooth.
This historic victory became a landmark for the future of Iggy and Galway hurlers, but the county were dealt a serious setback also in the 1972 All Ireland senior hurling semi final, when Kilkenny ran riot and ran up a huge scoreline to demoralise Galway ambitions. Between 1972 and ’75, Iggy won two Fitzgibbon Cup titles in 1973 and ’74 with Maynooth, and was now well on his way to becoming one of the most respected and skilful hurlers in the land.
As the summer of 1975 was fast approaching, Galway were on a winning streak in the National Hurling League, beat Kilkenny in the semi final by three points and it would be the mighty Tipperary who would walk out with them on final day. Tipp’s tradition was an awesome task for any county and Galway had to be fired up to fever pitch to claim the title. In a tight match, and in a game that provided eight goals and fifteen points for fans, Galway produced a historic performance and claimed the title by a mere three points and fans began probing further possible glory days.
In August 1975 a Cork team, without an All Ireland senior title since 1970, emerged from Munster and were odds on favourites to take on Kilkenny on final day once again. Iggy and colleagues bewildered the famous rebel county and left Cork in a trance, as Galway outscored and out-battled their illustrious opponents to reach the 1975 All Ireland senior hurling final.
Galway’s inexperience on final day proved costly when they conceded goals to Eddie Keher and colleagues and then left themselves a mountain to climb and Kilkenny were once again raising the Liam McCarthy Cup on the Hogan Stand. At the end of 1975, twenty three years old Iggy Clarke, had amassed a huge fan base all over Ireland from his wing back position and when the All Stars selectors gathered to select their team, Iggy Clarke was already penciled in at No.7. Fellow Galway colleagues, Seán Silke and the late Niall McInerney, were also honoured with All Stars.
As the 1970’s rolled on in Galway hurling, the year 1978 finally beckoned for Iggy Clarke. This would be his ordination year and a time in his life when hurling was on the back burner. Iggy’s inter county hurling brother Joe, had already made the leap to priesthood in 1977 and now the Clarke family had two priests in the family.
Away from his altar duties, Iggy was still playing great hurling with Mullagh and Galway seniors and again the All Stars came calling with his second great All Star prize, this time at No.9 in 1978. 1979 is well remembered in the southern capital of Cork, as the year when the rebels were chasing a massive four in a row All Ireland titles. With 1975 still fresh in the memory, Cork were well forewarned for Galway’s onslaught, but nothing could have prevented the upheaval about to occur at Croke Park in August 1979.
The backbone of the Galway side was twenty seven years old Iggy Clarke and the majestic John Connolly and P.J. Molloy. This remarkable trio of Tribesmen hurlers were capable of lining out with any of the mighty hurling counties and the reigning champions were unable to cope. Cork were left floundering and despondent as they trooped out of Croke Park and their dreams in tatters. Iggy and colleagues had once again no fear of Cork at the penultimate stage.
As the All Ireland final of 1979 dawned, Kilkenny were again awesome opponents. Many neutrals believed it was Galway’s golden moment to undo a lifetime of failing to bridge that huge gap, since the famous hurlers of 1923. Galway hurlers would not succumb like 1975, but again the sunshine of the day was with the Noreside fans. Iggy and his colleagues had scented that elusive dream and consolation was not a word on their agenda as the dawn of 1979 hastily departed. As reward for another year of instinctive and marvelous hurling, the All Star selectors crowned Iggy with his third All Star at No.7 in 1979. Great national recognition, but not what Iggy Clarke had envisaged.
The vast majority of people have no problem recalling eventful days in their life and despite Galway finally cutting loose in 1980 and claiming the great historic prize of Liam McCarthy, Iggy remembers 1980 also on a personal level. In the All Ireland semi final, Galway faced an emerging Offaly side intent on making a huge hurling statement, but that would not happen in 1980 for offaly.
An Offaly opponent challenging from behind and unseen by Iggy, crashed in to the Mullagh hurler and left him straddled on the green grass. Not even a free was awarded and Iggy was instantly counted out of progressing in the match and soon was on his way to the Mater Hospital. And worse was coming down the track. With Galway victorious and through to the All Ireland final of 1980, Iggy knew from his hospital bed, that he needed one of his own miracles to make the final.
Limerick were in the opposite corner for the big day in 1980 and when the west finally came awake, Iggy was sitting in the Cusack Stand. As the final minutes ticked away, he strode around the perimeter of Croke Park to the Hogan Stand. When Galway captain, Joe Connolly, had completed his famous speech, he called for the man in the sling to come to the podium. As Iggy raised Liam McCarthy to the clouds, the roar was so intense that Liam McCarthy himself heard the excitement way up in heaven’s haven. Galway had arrived and again Iggy Clarke was on the All Stars podium for his fourth and final All Star at No.7 in 1980.
The Offaly hoodoo struck again for Iggy in 1981, as Galway were about to put back to back senior titles in the register. Limerick were again silenced at the semi final gate in a replay and All Ireland wanted Iggy to appear on the Hogan Stand in the Galway jersey. Alas Galway floundered a glorious two goal lead from half time and managed only a paltry two points in the second half, whilst Offaly put 1 – 08 on the scoreboard in the same period. The Faithful county had now arrived in 1981 and wrestled Liam McCarthy from the grasp of Iggy and Galway.
Counties minus a tradition of major titles, seldom get a reprieve when opportunities arise to claim the golden prizes, and Galway and Iggy had now lost in 1975/ ’79 and ’81. Despite this record, hurling fans all over Ireland, have always kept a huge soft spot for the famous Iggy Clarke of Galway.
At club level Iggy was confronted in 1980 with a major decision that caused immense heartbreak to himself and made press headlines in many hurling lands. As the most popular priest in the history of Loughrea, many gaels in the town were requesting Iggy to consider joining the hurling clan of St. Brendans. Just over the road in his native homeland of Mullagh, his final decision to play for the town he lived in, was a bitter blow to his native Mullagh. Iggy had won two intermediate titles in 1992 and 1994 with Mullagh and the future of the club in senior ranks rested broadly on his shoulders.
St. Brendans, Loughrea, was a powerbase of hurling, but gaining entry to senior ranks had outpaced their aspirations for several decades, but with Iggy Clarke wearing the club colours, great expectations abounded. Following his recovery from the serious collar bone injury of 1980 and regaining full fitness, inter county and club hurling placed a huge obligation once again, but the extraordinary twenty nine years old Iggy spearheaded Brendans to a glorious county intermediate title in 1981 and finally promotion to senior ranks.
With Connacht he annexed three Railway Cup titles and was chosen at No.7 on the Galway Millennium hurling team. Hurling was not the only sport he graced. At Garbally College, Ballinasloe, a noted rugby school, he excelled at that code also and when athletics days came around, Iggy could always be found on the victors podium.
In the SuperStars era of the 1980’s Iggy was called into action and once again he dismantled many obstacles to leave his own identity with the judges. Versatility, dedication and passion for many sports, coupled with Iggy’s generous way of life, endeared the Galway sportsman to a whole army of sports fans.
At his tribute show in March 2014 to acclaim his sporting greatness, nobody needed encouragement to join Iggy for the gala event. Galway County Board, Mullagh G.A.A. and Loughrea Gaels, all embraced a Famous Son of Galway.
Nearly five hundred people gave Iggy a standing ovation as I rolled back the years for Iggy, his wife Mariel, Iggy’s beautiful step family and his own army of family, relatives and so many notable friends of the famous Galwayman.
Thank you Iggy for the great privilege of hosting “Your SportingLife Tribute Show” as a tribute to a remarkable sports legend.
Derry JF Doody