Saturday 10 December 2016

Donnchadh Boyle: Fitzgerald-Cusack double-act facing intriguing first test

Published 02/01/2016 | 02:30

Donal Og Cusack has had to put plenty of assignments on hold to row in behind Clare boss Davy Fitzgerald Photo:Sportsfile
Donal Og Cusack has had to put plenty of assignments on hold to row in behind Clare boss Davy Fitzgerald Photo:Sportsfile

There's scarcely a point or an observation that will be made for the first six months of the season that won't carry an asterisk.

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For the next four weeks, we'll be reminded that it's 'only January'. After that, any trend or form line that emerges will be dismissed as 'only the League'.

By the time we realise that the real stuff is here, it'll all be over again a flash.

January form is an unreliable indicator of things to come in that it can be hit and miss.

In football last year, Dublin won in the O'Byrne Cup and went all the way in September, but then Waterford and Roscommon won their January tournaments but could make little headway as the season unfolded.

Similar

There were similar form-lines in hurling. Limerick won in Munster but would have a disappointing campaign by their standards, while Walsh Cup champions Galway would come within 35 minutes of claiming the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

So looking for pointers this weekend as to how 2016 might pan out is a fool's errand.

In all there are 27 games and 50 intercounty and college teams in action of varying interest. There is, however, one fixture that jumps off the page.

In Sixmilebridge tomorrow, Clare and Cork will clash in the opening round of the Munster Senior Hurling League.

The fixture will likely see a number of hopefuls looking to force their way into their respective set-ups and some veterans looking for some early-season sharpness.

But it will be the men on the sideline who will attract the most attention.

The new partnership of Donal Og Cusack and Davy Fitzgerald in Clare will get its first public airing.

And that it comes against Cusack's native county only adds to the intrigue.

The announcement that the former Cork goalkeeper would be coming on board with Clare caught almost everyone by surprise, especially given that his and Fitzgerald's careers had overlapped for a period when they viewed each other as rivals.

And while Fitzgerald will remain the man in charge, it's expected Cusack's voice will carry plenty of weight in the new set-up.

Both men have put plenty on the line.

Fitzgerald is bringing another forceful personality into his backroom team as he looks to eke another All-Ireland out of a group of players that Cusack sees big things for.

"If that group of players don't win three All-Irelands, they have failed," said the three-time All-Ireland winner before taking up his new role.

Cusack was parking plenty too, not least a media career, his role with the GPA as well as his playing days with his beloved Cloyne.

Exactly how the deal will work remains to be seen.

The good news for Cusack is that Clare's form almost certainly has to improve.

Since the 2013 All-Ireland final replay, they have won just one game in the Championship, with that coming when they saw off Offaly in the back door last year.

Suffered

Other than that, they have suffered Championship defeats to the likes of Wexford and Cork.

Their League form wasn't much better in 2015 - they were relegated - and they ended their season with two wins from nine League and Championship games.

Given the talent in the Banner county, it's hard to see another run like that.

Fitzgerald's tenure looks secure until 2017 after been given the county board's backing to see out the three-year term he was handed in 2014.

Just what he can achieve in that period with Cusack at his side is likely to be analysed as much as any other topic in the world of Gaelic games this year.

Double acts in the GAA have had mixed results. John Morrison, who served as Mickey Moran's sidekick for eight seasons across a number of counties, described that job as the "toughest in the world".

Win or lose, this is a story that is going to run and run for the 2016 campaign.

CLARE - D Tuohy; E O'Brien, P O'Connor, P Flanagan; J Browne, C Ryan, G O'Connell; C Galvin, S Golden; D Reidy, T Kelly (C), P Duggan; J Conlon, D Honan, D Fitzgerald

Irish Independent

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