Fitzgerald tunnel bust-up another sign managers want total control
Published 11/07/2014 | 02:30
A confrontation in the tunnel in Ennis last Saturday wasn't the first time a sports reporter and a team manager have had to be separated.
I was standing right beside an inter-county manager in Clones once when he took offence at a question and invited a reporter to "step outside" to settle it, much to the press pack's amusement.
They never came to blows and neither did Davy Fitzgerald and 'Clare Champion' reporter Peter O'Connell.
But given Fitzgerald's profile as manager of the reigning All-Ireland hurling champions, their spat inevitably became headline news.
It was reported yesterday that Fitzgerald has since sent a letter to the paper banning O'Connell from any future interviews with him.
Not true, said 'Clare Champion' editor Austin Hobbs.
They got a written statement from Fitzgerald outlining his issues with the reporter, which they carried on their front page. But Hobbs confirmed that the county hurling manager did tell him, verbally, that he will not do interviews with O'Connell in future, or speak to any media scrum if he is part of it.
So what's bugging Davy?
Was O'Connell reporting on the 'dark forces' which Fitzy alleged last weekend were trying to do the Banner down? That appears to have been a reference to the local club row which saw him try, but fail, to have local club games cancelled in the run-up to their drawn qualifier with Wexford.
It was actually the 'Clare Champion' sports editor Seamus Hayes who covered that issue, not O'Connell, so that wasn't the problem. What he has written, and to which Fitzgerald has taken umbrage, are analyses of the county hurlers' performances.
In the wake of their loss to Cork, in a piece headlined 'Davy's tactics raise questions', O'Connell wondered why goalkeeper Pat Kelly had been dropped and why players like Domhnall O'Donovan, Seadna Morey and Cathal McInerney couldn't make Clare's starters.
He also wrote that "Podge Collins must also feel somewhat isolated by Davy Fitzgerald's after-match comments on dual players".
McInerney starred, alongside Collins, in last winter's Munster SFC club final when Cratloe almost dethroned Killarney superpower Dr Crokes. He's a brilliant footballer, but so far he has stayed loyal to the county hurlers. The spread of football, from its previous stronghold of west Clare, means that the 'dual player' issue is becoming a touchy subject locally.
O'Connell, from the Shannon Gaels club near Kilrush, has been a Clare U-21 football selector for the past four years and managed the county junior team last year and Fitzgerald clearly thinks he has an agenda, which the reporter flatly denies.
In his statement to the 'Clare Champion', Fitzgerald said: "This is not about just one article. It is about three years of continuous criticism of myself and my management team.
"Mr O'Connell appears to have an agenda – why are we subjected to such minute scrutiny when he doesn't apply the same criteria to the minor, senior, intermediate and his own U-21 management set-ups in the other code?"
A man who wears his heart not so much on his sleeve, but throbbing on his forehead, Fitzgerald is given to emotive statements and he's not alone.
After the joy of leading Donegal to their second All-Ireland in 2012, manager Jim McGuinness refused to start the post-final press conference unless a journalist – whose only offence was to write a brilliant book to which Kevin Cassidy had contributed – left.
Limerick's hurlers cited harsh press criticism as their motivation for beating Tipp this year, which also had most journalists scratching their heads in puzzlement.
Armagh boss Paul Grimley imposed a total media blackout recently, upset by the coverage of 'Paradegate'.
GAA managers want to control every last detail nowadays, right down to media interaction, and some appear far too easily slighted.
That is their prerogative and, actually, nothing new – their sensitivity is exacerbated by their amateur status and the explosion of media outlets. But a glance at their rugby counterparts should be instructive.
The only thing exploding in rugby these days is the game's popularity and the media has been the prime detonator.