Well, it was always on the cards. It’s been a famous, successful union for a number of years, but given the level of pressure he was under, it was never going to last. The rumours have been circulating for months, and it was inevitable, given the strain they were under, they would have to part ways. But enough about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, what about Davy Fitzgerald and Clare….
The news that one of the charismatic men in the GAA has stepped down/was asked to step down as Clare boss this week came as surprise to no one. His five-year reign as manager has divided opinion amongst critics. You could argue that, under Davy, Clare overachieved in 2013. Certainly, when you consider where they were at the start of that year, it was an All-Ireland firmly won against the odds. However, considering the county’s record of four All-Ireland under 21 successes in recent times, the fact that they’ve only beaten Limerick, Offaly and Laois in the Championship since that glorious September day three years ago is a major disappointment.
Given that Davy Fitzgerald has been at the helm for the last 3 unsuccessful years, which also included some fallouts with members of the panel, it did not reflect well on him. There was also the not too insignificant matter, that he was being rushed to hospital with heart trouble during the week of this year’s All-Ireland quarter-final. All things considered, for the good of his own health, and the good of the team, it was right for him to step away.
On saying that, what has sometimes got lost in the last three days of media glare is that Davy Fitzgerald IS a great hurling manager. The facts baldly state: he has been the only manager to get Waterford to an All-Ireland final in the last 50 years and the only Clare man to get their team to the holy grail of victory this century.
With that sort of track record, it’s almost certain we will see Davy back manically jumping up and down the sideline in an intercounty bainisteoir t-shirt in the next year or two. The only question is where? Lets take a look at the possibilities.
Possibly his best chance of getting back into intercounty management next year, the Yellow-Bellies had a respectable performance in this year’s Championship without ever threatening to beat Waterford in the quarter final. The performances of the under 21 panel in recent years have shown that there is plenty of potential in the county, they just need the right man to take it forward. Still and all, it’s a long way from Clare to Wexford….
Liam Dunne has been manager for the past five years, but his popularity as a coach has always been in some question. All throughout last year there were rumours of unrest and player fallouts. He had to re-apply for the position of boss in the autumn, but there are no guarantees they will give him it. Throw Davy Fitzgerald’s name into the ring, and his position looks even less secure.
Again, there is already a manager on the roster for the Dublin senior hurling team, but there are again question marks over his calibre. Ger Cunningham took his first senior intercounty job on two years ago, and while it hasn’t been an unmitigated disaster, it hasn’t been an overwhelming success either.
Certainly this year’s Championship, where the side were easily dismissed by Kilkenny in Leinster, before losing to a poor Cork side in the qualifiers, didn’t exactly instil confidence at where the graph is heading. The fact that Cunningham was unable to entice one of the county’s star hurlers, Danny Sutcliffe, onto the panel this year was also a blot on his copybook.
Davy’s old team-mate, Anthony Daly, proved a very popular manager during his six year tenure as Dublin boss. While it’s unlikely Davy would stay for that long in the capital, a shorter term burst might appeal. After a hugely promising 2013 Championship, the form of the Dubs has stagnated massively in the last few years. There still seems to be plenty of underage talent in the county, but it is in need of proper direction. A bit of fresh impetus next year could be badly needed.
If you had said at the height of the long, hot summer of 1998 that Davy Fitzgerald would one day be Offaly boss, people would have laughed at you. If you had said earlier this year, that Davy Fitzgerald would be manager of Offaly next year, then people would still have laughed at you. But the reasons as to why this is the case now, rather than the reasons as to why it was the case then, are somewhat different.
Offaly hurling, unfortunately, has regressed massively since the turn of the century. Where once the county competed for All-Irelands, now they compete with the likes of Westmeath and Kerry in the Leinster championship round robin. So is Davy Fitzgerald willing to lower himself, to the level of his old nemesis, in order to return to intercounty management?
Eamon Kelly resigned as senior manager a few weeks ago and the appetite for someone to take over the job, and for Offaly hurling in general, seems to be continuously diminishing. It would take a serious amount of effort to reach a stage where they would even be able to compete in a Leinster final. Whether Davy has the appetite for that kind of task is unsure, but one thing is certain: something drastic needs to happen in Offaly hurling for it to return it to its former glories. Why couldn’t Davy be that thing?
Alright, stop sniggering at the back there. Davy Fitzgerald as Cork boss. Yeah right. Frank Murphy would never let that happen. The Cork public would never let happen. But ask yourself this question: why shouldn’t they let it happen?
Rather than look at this as a purely hypothetical scenario of aliens taking over the planet, let’s put the question in another format: if you had two options for Cork boss, and one was Kieran Kingston and the other was Davy Fitzgerald, who would you pick? One has won All-Ireland and League titles in the last four years, the other has presided over a disastrous league campaign and his county’s first loss in the Championship to Wexford in 60 years. So, does the question still seem that ridiculous?
Now, of course, the idea that the Cork county board would rock the boat in such a way as to remove one of their own men and install an outsider in the ranks is a bit of a fantasy. Kieran Kingston will argue that he’s only been in the job one year and needs time to instil his methods, but the outlook for Cork hurling is bleak right now and the adherence to always appoint past stars from 30+ years ago hasn’t served them particularly well in recent times.
We know it’s not likely to happen, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it shouldn’t. Davy as Cork boss and Donal Óg Cusack as Clare boss? Well, in a parallel universe maybe, but what a story it would be.
Ok, we know that Michael O’Donoghue is still ensconced in his role as Galway manager, so this is a long shot. We also know, well…this is Galway we’re talking about. While the Tribesmen’s performance in last year’s Championship was respectable, they’re still no closer to lifting an All-Ireland than they have been at any stage in the last 27 years. They’ve already been relegated from Division 1A of the league, and their semi-final exit against Tipperary was heart-breaking, if not exactly unexpected.
With the appointment of Ger Loughnane and John McIntyre in the last few years, the Galway county board has shown a willingness to look beyond their county boundaries in order to try and attain success. In addition to this, Davy Fitzgerald has already coached a number of their intercounty players, including Joe Canning, in his role as LIT director of hurling. Given how last year went, it’s unlikely this position will be available for at least 12 months but if Davy was willing to recharge the batteries for that time, then who knows what opportunities would present themselves.
Mark Townsend, Pundit Arena