Saturday 27 May 2017

Jamesie O'Connor: Davy Fitz paid the price for Clare becoming predictable

Fitzgerald not finished yet but swift departure gives Banner ample time to find right successor

'That had to be a contributory factor in the players feeling that a change of direction was necessary. In such circumstances, Davy has made the right decision to go.' Photo: Sportsfile
'That had to be a contributory factor in the players feeling that a change of direction was necessary. In such circumstances, Davy has made the right decision to go.' Photo: Sportsfile

Jamesie O'Connor

February five years ago, Clare took on Limerick in the opening round of the National League, and I happened to be doing co-commentary on TV. Outside of the Waterford Crystal competition, it was Davy Fitz's first competitive game in charge of his native county.

Clare got the opening score, but minutes later they were carved open and a flowing Limerick move ended with Niall Moran sticking the ball in the Clare net.

Someone went down with an injury shortly afterwards and we cut to a replay of the goal. Clare's defensive shortcomings had been exposed in their previous championship campaign, and I made the comment on air that it was the one area that you'd hope would be addressed as the season progressed. Thereafter however, there was only one team in it. Clare hurled their neighbours off the field, and I couldn't have been any more effusive in my praise.

As a teacher, my phone is invariably on silent, so it wasn't until lunchtime the following Monday that I realised I had a voice message. It was from the new Clare manager. Apparently, someone in LIT had passed a comment to him that I had been heavily critical on the TV, and he was taking me up on it. I couldn't believe it. I asked him had he actually watched the game back or heard exactly what I'd said. He hadn't. But that was Davy.

We've had a few similar differences of opinion in recent years, and our relationship - and I'm wondering if we actually still have one - could be described as strained at best. I'd like to think I've always been fair and balanced with the views I've expressed. He hasn't always seen it that way, and let's just say we've agreed to disagree on occasion.

I had heard rumblings that the players had met and were looking for a change, so it didn't come as a huge shock on Tuesday evening when the story that he was stepping down started to break. Five years is a long time at the helm of an inter-county side, unless you're Brian Cody. Even the great Ger Loughnane, despite freshening up the backroom team in both 1999 and 2000, arguably stayed a year too long.

There's obviously huge disappointment within the county at the team's lack of progress since winning the All-Ireland in 2013. For whatever reason, and it's not the lack of effort on behalf of either the management or players, the team just hasn't kicked on. Tommy Dunne hit the nail on the head on Newstalk during the week, when he said "it wasn't the fact that Clare weren't winning All-Irelands since 2013, but the fact they weren't threatening to win them."

No-one would have believed that we'd fail to win a game in the Munster Championship in the intervening period, or fail to get back to Croke Park. There's also no getting away from the fact that our style of play seems to have alienated a sizeable percentage of the Clare hurling public. To my mind, we've become stale and predictable.

Teams know how we're going to set up, and because we've persisted with a sweeper, it's afforded our opponents the luxury of an extra defender themselves. That's seriously diluted any goal threat we might have had - we failed to raise a green flag in the championship matches with Waterford, Limerick and Galway this summer.

That had to be a contributory factor in the players feeling that a change of direction was necessary. In such circumstances, Davy has made the right decision to go. To his credit, acting as swiftly as he did has given the county board ample time to seek his successor. Obviously the names of both Anthony Daly and current under 21 manager Donal Moloney are likely to figure prominently on any shortlist drawn up.

As for my former colleague, love him or loathe him, you can never take away the memories of 2013, and especially the hurling played to win that All-Ireland. That will never be forgotten. No-one will be more disappointed than Davy that things haven't turned out the way he would have liked since. And maybe the pool of talent in Clare wasn't quite as deep as we imagined. Whatever your views, there was never a dull moment with him, and we've not seen the end of Davy Fitz on the inter-county stage just yet.

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