The seasonal managerial merry-go-round has kicked in and the first big name casualty has been Davy Fitzgerald.
With expectation sky high after winning an All-Ireland senior title in 2013 shortly followed by three in a row All-Ireland U21 winning teams, Championship results since have not made for pleasant reading for Clare supporters.
Davy refreshed his backroom team throughout his tenure and the addition of Donal Óg Cusack was a big fillip for 2016 but a poor Championship run and tactically restrictive game plans meant players were divided on Davy taking on another year. After five successful years in which he delivered Clare’s fourth All-Ireland and their first National League in 36 years, he stepped aside earlier this week.
The question dominating the hurling landscape is who will take on the mantle. There are plenty of potential suitors, a team with power, pace, youth and forwards who would walk onto any team on the country awaits the new bainisteoir.
Anthony Daly and the U21 winning management duo of Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney are the early favourites. Anthony Daly had a stint in the mid -noughties with the Clare panel peaking in an All-Ireland semi final when they were pipped at the post by a superb Cork team. The former U21 management led Clare to three All-Ireland titles in a row playing some scintillating hurling in the process and would have the respect of the senior panel immediately.
While all the focus has been on the manager that will be appointed, the Clare board needs to look a bit deeper than that. The U21 management team had Paul Kinnerk of Limerick coaching the U21 team and he was immensely popular with the players and played an influential part in the 2013 senior win. He has joined Limerick senior hurlers for the coming season. This may count against the prospects of the management duo being successful.
Anthony Daly, too, will have questions to answer on who will coach the team. He has gained a huge amount of experience since his first stint with the Clare team, leading Dublin to a Leinster title in 2013 and coaching the Limerick minors to an All- Ireland final appearance this year. “Dalo” has been a massive fan of playing an extra defender behind the centre back but too often this was undone against the stronger teams, mainly Kilkenny, but they have a knack for quashing the most innovative of tactics. He would require more of the same to unlock the brilliance of this Clare team.
One man who could be key to a manager’s successful application is Eamon O’Shea. O’Shea was coach to the Tipperary senior hurlers from 2008 to 2010 before returning to manage the team from 2013 to 2015. He is credited with creating and inspiring the Tipperary forward play that lit up the Championship during his tenure. The Tipperary players are wholesome in their praise of his coaching methods and he has the ability to mould players into his vision, although the raw materials weren’t bad, Lar Corbett and Seamus Callinan to name a few. He would have the same with Clare.
When Clare won their All-Ireland hurling crown in 2013, they had the perfect blend of pace, movement and no little skill. In the final they tore the Cork defence to shreds with Tony Kelly drifting from deep to score spectacular points and Shane O’Donnell racking up a hat trick at full forward. However, since then they have found it hard to unlock defences. The hurling world was excited at the prospect of these young guns getting a run at Kilkenny in Croke Park, but they haven’t delivered on their part.
Eamon has been there and done that though, leading his Tipperary team to deliver one of the greatest All-Ireland final forward displays in 2014, scoring 31 points on the day. They were unmarkable at various stages. He could replicate that inspiring display with the Clare boys. In Kelly and John Conlon, the Banner have powerful half forwards that can hurl and when you get the ball further in, Podge, Shane O’Donnell and Conor McGrath are all real game winners. Eamon as coach could be the one to find those pockets of space for them to flourish. Let’s hope he gets that call across the border in Galway and answers it.
Brian Dillon, Pundit Arena