GAA fans all around the country woke to the news that Davy Fitzgerald’s position as manager of the Clare senior hurling team was in jeopardy during the week. And while it came as a shock to many, to others it was little of a surprise.
It is important to note that Davy has managed the Clare senior hurling side since 2011. Other than Clare’s monumental All-Ireland victory over Cork in 2013, the Clare senior hurling team have achieved little success. This was their first All-Ireland victory since 1997 and it cannot be undermined, but since then the Clare team simply has not progressed under Fitzgerald.
Expectations were building for a team budding with energy, tactics, fitness, and most of all talent. Nationally, GAA fans built expectations on this young Clare side to inevitably become one of the super powers of hurling. The beautiful hurling we saw in 2013 from that Clare side though, we never really witnessed again.
These expectations were nothing short of the normal thing to happen though. People tend to forget that this Clare team had dominated the under 21 level for three years prior to that. The likes of Tony Kelly, Conor McGrath, Darach Honan, and Aaron Cunningham were already big names in the GAA before they won the All-Ireland in 2013.
In 2014, they lost out in a qualifying replay to a Wexford side who played the game in a similar fashion to the Banner county. The Model county matched them on the pitch, and after a very close encounter they were victorious over the All-Ireland champions in Innovate Wexford Park. After this loss, it was an uphill battle for Davy and his Clare side as they continuously failed to reach the heights of 2013.
To many, Davy was the catalyst of his own downfall. His handling of the media was questionable, and he was often wound up by journalists hoping to force a reaction. Journalists wanted to get a reaction out of him and with his out-there personality sometimes it was not that difficult. On some occasions, his emotions got the better of him, and journalists made stories out of his angry post-match reactions and his in-game ecstatic jumping on the sidelines.
His later attempts to boycott the media just spurred news organisations on even more. One word answers and blunt replies were nothing short of entertaining and funny on live television, but in hindsight it kept the GAA journalists and pundits talking about him. This was a method that ultimately backfired on him as Clare hurling manager. He was constantly in the news, no matter what.
Brian Cody’s media method is one similar to the way Sir Alex Ferguson addressed journalists. They both discussed what the media wanted to hear, but never anything major to make a story. It would only be a rare occasion that it was going to be controversial on their parts.
At the beginning, Davy was never a man to shy away from controversy. However, as his reign continued the controversy became more secretive and problems from inside the panel became knowing to the media. When journalists and the media heard about the problems in the Clare hurling camp, they pounced on it like wild animals.
Two major problems that many might remember, is the ‘no dual star’ saga and his treatment of coach Paul Kinnerk. His idea to single out players, and to force them to train in a corner of the field away from their team-mates, became one of the worst decisions he has ever made as when it became public he really was in a bad position.
The Clare County board, with Davy’s father Patrick as county secretary, seemingly gave him one last chance. However, when one re-visits Clare’s last three campaigns, it was clear that something else needed to be done. Since 2013, Clare have only overcome Offaly, Limerick and Laois in Championship hurling. Narrowly winning the National Hurling League in 2016 was a good achievement, but it’s about Championship at the end of the day and that stat speaks for itself.
For Davy, a severe dose of karma came when Cratloe, Clonlara and Wolfe Tones’ players refused to play under his management any longer and demanded change after the unfair treatment of Kinnerk. Even though Davy insists that he walked on his own terms, he also spoke highly of a division within the camp. Certainly, his extravagant personality was a driving force behind this divide.
In hindsight, Davy was the catalyst of his own downfall and the inevitable has now occurred.The question now lies, who’s next for the Clare senior hurlers? In line as strong contenders are Brian Lohan, Anthony Daly, Donal Óg and Gerry O’Connor.
Jason Redmond, Pundit Arena.