Fitzgerald's step back on dual role a real step forward
Published 16/10/2015 | 02:30
In the wake of Clare's Munster Championship loss to Cork in 2014, Davy Fitzgerald made his most unequivocal statement about the potential success - or lack of it as he saw it - of dual players operating at elite inter-county level.
Podge Collins and his brother Sean had been serving both squads since the start of the year and Fitzgerald had repeatedly expressed reservations about such a project.
'We'll see how it goes and we'll let them at it but I'm not sure' was the general theme of what he would say. Defeat to Cork gave him a platform to nail the issue in his mind.
"I am worried because there's been a lot taken out of the lads. There are a few lads that think they can play both codes - you can't do it," he declared.
Sure enough, Podge Collins hadn't matched the heights that he reached in 2013 and by the end of the summer he was faced with an ultimatum, laid down by Fitzgerald, to make his choice. Dual status was no longer being brooked by the hurlers.
In doing so Fitzgerald was sticking by his conviction that players can't serve both masters at the expense of what is a unique circumstance.
The Clare footballers have been managed by the Collins brothers' father Colm for the last two years. What other choice were they going to make when faced with it? Blood? Water?
Fitzgerald's conviction may be right. He only has to look to Cork and Aidan Walsh's testimony at the end of 2014 for back-up.
But the Collins case is different. It has an exceptional family link that simply had to be accommodated.
Were Clare hurlers any better off in 2015 in the absence of Podge, notwithstanding the fact that he sustained a cruciate ligament injury that would have sidelined him for the latter end of the season anyway?
In issuing the ultimatum to hurl or play for their father, Fitzgerald must have factored in the potential impact on morale within his squad.
The Collins' are very popular young men among their colleagues who are known to regularly push an 'open door' into their house in Cratloe.
Podge's easy-going, effervescent personality was a feature of Clare's bolt to the top in 2013; now he was effectively being left with no choice but to become an inter-county footballer only. That had to have impacted on those around him.
More than 12 months on though and the exception that should have remained in place for as long as Colm Collins was football manager has returned. With Collins unlikely to have fully rehabilitated by the end of next year's league, the crossover will be a lot less than it was in 2014. That makes it easier.
The details of the 2016 squad have yet to be released and some changes are the pipeline. Changes in the backroom may also be made with former Cork hurler Kieran Murphy, who played on some of Fitzgerald's Limerick IT teams, being tipped for some involvement. But Paul Kinnerk doesn't look like he is returning.
Dual status may indeed not be possible but the benefit of a happier camp overrides that.
Collins' imminent return will be portrayed as a climb-down from Fitzgerald given his previous stance on the issue but it is, first and foremost, a sensible decision taken by the management.
To return to the top, Fitzgerald has recognised the need to address issues that have grated away over the last two years. The 'softening' of attitudes towards this exceptional circumstance is a step in the right direction.