It’s widely known that Davy Fitzgerald faced serious criticism during the latter stages of his five-year term as manager of his native Clare.
After winning the All-Ireland Championship in 2013, following a 16-year wait, the Banner County’s young panel failed to live up to potential. They exited the championship the following year at the qualifying stages while in March 2015, they were relegated from Division 1A of the National Hurling League.
Supporters and media alike began to turn on Fitzgerald and question what was going wrong in a county with such youthful talent. Among the critics, was his own former teammate Brian Lohan.
The fallout between the former friends was widely reported from the moment the duo locked horns as respective managers of rivals LIT and UL in the Fitzgibbon Cup. Prior to the 2014 quarter-final, Fitzgerald decided to “rattle a few cages” by warming up his LIT side at the UL end of their pitch while his tactics throughout the game were used to frustrate the opposition. Lohan kept his distance from his counterpart at the end of the game.
However, as Fitzgerald explained in his 2018 autobiography ‘At All Costs‘ it was when Lohan called for an independent review into Clare hurling the following year that their relationship truly broke down.
“It’d be fair to say we’d fallen out big-time, Brian having made the unprecedented call for “an independent review” of Clare hurling after that year’s championship exit to Cork. He wanted the review conducted under the chairmanship of Ger Loughnane and, essentially, sought to have the county board excluded from the process, as it was ‘not independent enough’. This I took as an obvious dig at my dad.
“I was absolutely disgusted and texted Lohan straight away. I mean, these are guys you played with and it feels as if they’re setting you up. I just couldn’t understand it. How can he be looking for a review?
“‘What are you at?’ I asked in the text. ‘Do you not think I’m getting enough stick without you jumping on the bandwagon?’ His response was incredible. ‘The Review will help you,’ he said.
“My reply to that was pretty strong and I won’t repeat it. But I basically told Brian what I thought of him. To me, I should have been getting more loyalty from these guys, but I was getting none. On the contrary, I just got the impression they were determined to undermine me.”
As teammates throughout the 1990s, Fitzgerald and Lohan built up a formidable bond as goalkeeper and full-back of Clare. The current Wexford manager even revealed that he asked Lohan to be part of his Clare management team, such was the regard he held him in.
For Fitzgerald, it made the criticism much harder to stomach.
“It’s hard enough to beat other counties without feeling that your own are on your back.
“Bearing in mind that just three years earlier I’d asked Lohan to be one of my Clare selectors, you’ll get an idea of just how spectacularly our relationship has collapsed.
“There was a time he was as close to me as a brother. As Clare goalkeeper and full-back for the most momentous decade in the county’s history, I think it’s fair to say we had an almost telepathic relationship. But more than that, I believed we were really tight, regularly golfing together, doing business together, all the time bouncing ideas off one another about hurling and what it was that made a winning dressing room.”
Brian Lohan wasn’t the only former teammate with whom Fitzgerald had a falling out. Four-time All-Star winner Jamesie O’Connor was also vocal in his criticism of the then Clare manager.
“In their very different ways, both Brian and Jamesie had been cutting the back off me since I took over Clare. Why Jamesie especially chose to do that I don’t know. I actually phoned him a couple of times early on in my term as manager to ask why he seemed so consistently negative towards my leadership of the team, given I was hardly a wet weekend in the job. No more than with Lohan, I felt I’d had a great relationship with Jamesie when we were teammates.
“Maybe they felt they had good reasons for criticising my management of the county. And maybe I should have been more accepting for that.
“For men who had such incredible experiences together, I’d love to think that some day we could just get back to the way we used to be. Wishful thinking?”
Fitzgerald has brought success to Wexford since his move to the South-East, leading them to Leinster glory and an All-Ireland semi-final appearance in 2019.
In a role reversal, Brian Lohan has taken charge of Clare’s senior hurlers and while we can expect their interactions on the sideline to be kept to a minimum, Fitzgerald maintained on a recent appearance on the Sunday Game that he wishes his former teammate luck in the post.
“Going forward with Clare, I honestly want to see Brian doing well, 100%. We’ll come across each other on the sideline and there might be no talk, but still, I’d like to see him do well.
“I got hurt at the start from a bit of criticism and probably Brian got hurt that I said stuff in my book. Maybe we should be big enough to forget about it and move on, there are a lot more important things in life.
“Having dealt with Brian professionally, he’s a good guy. If we don’t talk, we don’t talk, but I honestly wish him and the boys all the best.”