Davy Fitzgerald has fallen on his sword and resigned as Clare Senior Hurling manager after asking his vice captains Tony Kelly and Cian Dillon to garner feedback from the panel on whether he should continue as manager. This is the statement that anyone associated with the Clare Senior team wants you to hear; rational discussion and the manager walked in a dignified manner.
I think it is fair to say that this sequence of events is not truly what happened. The leaks to the media in recent days were deliberate and sounded a warning to the Clare board that a potential player revolt was on the cards. Podge Collins declaring his intentions to focus on one GAA code next season; a statement to people on the outside that he would switch to the football panel unless changes were seen in the hurling setup.
When you consider the Clare People newspaper report last weekend of an impending revolt from the hurling panel (pretty much said it by reference to several players threatening to pull out of the panel), it was clear that Davy Fitzgerald was backed into a corner and despite support within the county board decided that he had no choice but to resign.
It is a sad day for the Sixmilebridge native after his accomplishments with Clare in recent years. He owes the county nothing. All Ireland honors as player and manager. Embarrassing sequence of events for anyone associated with Clare hurling. Player power wins and the county board were ill-prepared to deal with the aftermath which prompted Fitzgerald’s decision to step aside. Health problems aside, it was a classic ousting akin to Cunningham’s dismissal in Galway last season.
2013 will live in the memory of any Clare hurling supporter. Their fourth All Ireland title won in a pulsating replay against Cork where hurling fans thought that we had found a prodigal talent in Shane O’Donnell, the full forward plundered a hat-trick of goals against the Rebels. The U21 talent coming through the ranks indicated that this Clare side would be competing for Liam McCarthy honors but it never materialized despite their NHL triumph against Waterford earlier this season; an accelerating performance to defeat Kilkenny in the semi-final. All looked rosy from the outside after the NHL this term, but obviously troubles were in the camp.
The Clare players have decided to cull Fitzgerald and hoping that a change in manager will do the trick. I am sorry to inform the Clare’s player but they were well short in the championship this season. They can complain on the sweeper system adopted by Fitzgerald which has had its critics (including yours truly) but the players lacked the physicality, work rate and attacking threat when it has come to the business end of the season in recent years. It cannot be all to do with the manager and backroom staff which boasted the likes of Kinnerk, Cusack. They had all the resources available to them and yet they fell so short to even make an appearance to Croke Park in August.
The Galway defeat in Thurles this season in the All Ireland Championship Quarter Final exposed massive issues with management and players. Davy Fitzgerald’s health issues created a media storm; it should have provided inspiration to the players but it had the opposite effect. The players’ performance was devoid of the hunger and physicality required in championship action. The two goals conceded were extremely soft particularly the second goal immediately after the restart where Galway walked through the heart of the Clare defense to put the game to bed early even with the famed sweeper system.
Clare’s key players like Tony Kelly, Podge Collins and John Conlon struck isolated figures in the contest struggling to get into the contest and with Shane O’Donnell ineffective in the full forward line, Clare lacked any serious goal threat. The players look devoid of appetite for battle, some may contend that the players were devoid of confidence due to the system adopted by management. It is ultimately the players on the pitch that had control of their destiny and their lack of leadership in the Galway contest was glaring. The white flag was raised well before the end of the contest.
Fitzgerald has had issues with certain member of the panel in recent years; the unsavory saga between Nicky O’Connell and Fitzgerald cast a massive shadow over the team last season. This season, it emerged from the Clare People that the players were unhappy with the marginalization of Paul Kinnerk in the setup; a well respected hurling figure but given the introduction of Donal Og Cusack to the backroom team, it was always going to be the case that Kinnerk was not the only person who would have influence in the style of play adopted by Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was bold enough to bring Cusack into the setup to try and turn Clare’s championship fortunes; it did not work this season but he has to be applauded for trying something new and hoping that a new face in the setup would do the tonic.
Fitzgerald will have plenty of suitors for his services. Dublin’s managerial role looks an intriguing plot line. There are the well documented health issues but the role if offered to Fitzgerald would be one that the Sixmilebridge native could not refuse. A county board looking for a supremo to change their fortunes; abundance in financial and player pool resources.
Ger Cunningham looks vulnerable after two unconvincing seasons at the Dublin managerial helm and with Danny Sutcliffe still on the sidelines, some within Dublin hurling board may look for change. Fitzgerald comes out of this debacle with his head held high and if he decides to take time out from management, there is always media punditry which would be a bonus to hurling fans.
Clare must now look for a new manager, one who will need to put his blueprint on the team as soon as possible. The new manager will need to deal with several players who have failed to deliver in the Clare jersey come championship time and introduce the likes of Shanagher to provide goal threat. The role of Tony Kelly will generate plenty of thought for the new managerial ticket; an undoubted quality player but has had flitting glimpses of brilliance in the championship since 2013.
The lure of a panel whose age profile is young will appeal to several candidates. Anthony Daly, Donal Og Cusack, Anthony Cunningham, Brian Lohan and several other internal county candidates will throw their hats into the ring. All candidates provide Clare with noted accomplishments in the sport but the absence of Paul Kinnerk from the setup is a devastating blow. Kinnerk’s hurling nous and fitness reputation precedes him and Limerick’s gain is very much Clare’s loss.
A period of rehab is required in the Clare Senior Hurling camp but with a competitive NHL 1A in the offing, the new manager will not have the luxury of trying out new players in league games. The existing panel will need to deliver, otherwise their reputation will be in ruins. Intriguing times lie ahead for Clare. Farewell for now Davy but I think you will be back in no time to the intecounty hurling scene either on the sideline or on the Sunday Game!