Sinead Kissane

Thursday 24 July 2014

Davy was born to be a manager of men and preach gospel of respect

Sinead Kissane

Published 05/10/2013|04:00

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Manager Davy Fitzgerald celebrating Clare's All-Ireland win. Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

The angelic face with the killer touch. When Shane O'Donnell took off his helmet and sat on the pitch with gold streamers hugging him under the Croke Park lights, it looked like a shot 'Vogue' would be proud of. This was no afternoon matinee. This was box-office. He had just performed a Liam MacCarthy-winning role with 3-3 in an All-Ireland final. And yes, his life would never be the same again.

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Have we ever witnessed anything like this before in the GAA? Whatever about the other so-called idols on bedroom walls all over the country; this is a 19-year-old with real talent. One of the Banner Babes. But he's the star-man. The mania after the charity match in Sixmilebridge during the week was unprecedented. He needed to be rescued by gardai after he was mobbed by girls.

How will he handle all this adulation? He told his manager Davy Fitzgerald during the week that he won't let it get to his head.

But just like Davy didn't tell him he was starting until two hours before throw-in last Saturday to help contain his nervousness, Davy will know how to help Shane handle this.

But sometimes Davy needs a bit of help himself, and when he does, he knows where to turn.

Father Harry Bohan's phone in Sixmilebridge has been ringing non-stop. People from all over Ireland want to talk to him about one man. Davy Fitz. During an emotive interview on RTE Radio, Davy said Fr Harry had been "an absolute inspiration" to him. Listening in, Fr Harry admits it was nice to hear. It felt good. But that's what Davy does. He makes people feel good about themselves.

There's something about Davy. To us on the outside, he seems to be a whirlwind of forces. The traditionalist and the revolutionist. The character versus the caricature. The fire and fury versus the faith and forgiveness. The manager we see on the sideline versus the man Fr Harry chats to at home.

This week, Davy gave us an insight into why he is hard-wired the way he is. In the glow of his greatest triumph, Davy revealed one of his greatest torments. He was bullied as a child. On radio, he pleaded with listeners to speak to someone if they're suffering something similar.

His words hit home. It was also a reminder that equality isn't just the right to be treated the same. But the right to be different. Many people wanted to give their gratitude to Davy for his words. Just ask Fr Harry.

Davy moulded those experiences into morals to try and bring the best out of others. He also learned from his father Pat – who was the workers' representative in Shannon Airport and always had the welfare of others at heart. That outlook seems to underpin Davy's way of life. He's known for his charity work, which, no doubt, he would hate to be described as 'charity' and especially as 'work'.

Davy pushes the boundaries of our traditional view of a GAA manager; his role with Clare goes way beyond that. As well as owning a bar in Ennis, Davy also seems to be a quasi life coach. Syl O'Connor, who worked with Davy as a selector with Sixmilebridge, says Davy "puts tremendous pride into the way a fella presents himself".

When the Clare team arrived at Sixmilebridge last Sunday evening for the homecoming, Fr Harry stood on the platform and watched the players drink in the joy of the occasion with the locals. But he said there wasn't a sign of drink on the players. Davy asks them to respect themselves and in turn to respect others.

Fr Harry believes Davy sees the All-Ireland success as a stepping stone to something greater; to make the young men role models.

Davy has spread his own gospel beyond Co Clare. On the eve of the 2005 Fitzgibbon Cup final, Davy, as manager of the Limerick IT hurling team, asked the players to take a trip with him on the bus.

Inter-county stars like Kilkenny's Jackie Tyrrell and Cork's Kieran 'Fraggy' Murphy were in the group. They arrived at the graveside of a very close friend of Davy's. They paid their respects. Davy then delivered an oratory about the importance of family, loyalty and unity. There are some moments in life you don't forget. That evening is one for the players.

Davy has cornered the market on passion but it's much more than that. Fr Harry says Davy isn't into conventional religion but is deeply spiritual. "Davy has a great soul. And a great sense of the power of God," Fr Harry explains.

The best advice he's given Davy is to never be afraid to be himself. And never apologise for the heart that's in him.

He adheres to that. Plus he's not afraid to let people in. And he's not afraid to show emotion. It was almost voyeuristic watching the way he reacted after the final whistle in Clare's win such was the unadulterated emotion on display.

There's something about Davy for sure. Fr Harry says that Davy is very philosophical about hurling. About life. He was born to be a manager of people. That is a call he has answered.

Sinead Kissane is a sports presenter and reporter with TV3.

Irish Independent

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