Fitzgerald's change of heart key to Banner revival
U-turn on dual stars bears fruit as Collins return lifts Banner squad
Published 10/05/2016 | 02:30
Pressure was mounting on Davy Fitzgerald within Clare.
Just two years previously they scaled hurling's mountain, but with only one subsequent Championship win and relegation to Division 1B, the mood quickly turned sour. Change was essential and calls needed to be made.
One call in particular. While the recruitment of Donal Óg Cusack and the return of Paul Kinnerk have had a huge bearing on Clare's style and approach in 2016, they were missing something between the white lines. So pride was swallowed and Podge Collins was brought back into the fold.
Collins had opted out last year when forced to choose between hurling and football, managed by his father Colm, and further controversy arose when Nicky O'Connell and Davy O'Halloran were both dropped for discipline breaches which garnered unsavoury headlines surrounding player welfare.
Colm Galvin departed for the US last summer before later returning near the Championship's conclusion but it was clear something was rotten in the state of Clare. And one way to stem the tide was to enlist the Cratloe flyer.
At 5ft 7in he may be small in stature but Fitzgerald couldn't do without Collins; he was the missing piece of the Banner jigsaw. The addition of Cusack and Clare's use of a PR company were further cases of a more open-minded Fitzgerald. He rolled the dice but he knew exactly how it would land with the All-Star attacker.
Long before Championship preparation began last October, it was announced that Collins would resume the dual role he last attempted in 2014. That ended in a nightmare when Collins was red-carded against Wexford before missing the replay loss.
So what has changed since? A string of narrow losses forced Fitzgerald to change his outlook. One of the great thinkers of the game, the All-Ireland-winning manager would have to afford Collins the opportunity to play both codes to keep Clare best placed to secure Liam MacCarthy.
Clear communication lines between the football and hurling managements have allowed Collins to flourish and hit the ground running despite only returning from a cruciate knee injury mid-March. Less than 12 months since suffering the injury, the 24-year-old has returned with a bang.
It has been a ground-breaking period for the Banner, and Collins has been to the fore, coming off the bench to kick a point as Clare edged Kildare to take the Division 3 Football title, while he was his usual energetic self as the hurlers put Waterford to the sword last Sunday in the final replay.
Colm Collins outlines the common ground, saying: "One of our selectors, David O'Brien, worked with David Fitzgerald in Waterford and the two of them are good friends. They put together the schedule for Podge at the start of the year and there was no doubling up, he knows what he's doing every night of the year.
"He was either with them or us but he wasn't going to be doing double the amount of training. That has worked really well, so far so good and please God it'll keep working.
"It's a very unusual situation for him because I'm involved with the football team. But he was always going to try and play both. It isn't an easy job but it suits certain people more than others and it suits him. He has that energy and he just loves playing sport and that's why he's able to do it."
Cruciates have changed careers but that energy, which his father described as like "holding a rabbit in his hands" when he was a child, was harnessed into targeting a swift return.
"He moved back home to Cratloe from Limerick city before the surgery so he could cycle to work (22km round trip) and build up the knee. He quickly refocused his energy and gave himself the best chance to come back in nine months. He achieved it which is testament to his dedication," he said.
"The physios and strength and conditioning teams were given the task of making sure the reins were kept on the recovery and they did. He followed what they told him and everything has worked out, great thanks be to God. Growing up he was always mad for road. He always had boundless energy and the injury hasn't changed that."
Collins' energy has helped revitalise fortunes in the Banner and the X-factor he offers was something they couldn't do without for another year. It meant Fitzgerald had to bend his own rules but ultimately Clare are the real winners as progress is impossible without change.
And it's all change in Clare this year.