Sport Hurling

Thursday 21 September 2017

Fitz fury boils over as Deise dismiss conflict

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

A further verbal altercation between a Waterford hurler and Clare hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald took place within the confines of the Deise dressing room after Sunday's Munster semi-final had ended, it has emerged.

Fitzgerald had gone to the Waterford dressing-room to congratulate them on their win when the incident took place.

It followed John Mullane's triumphalism in front of Fitzgerald close to the sideline at the final whistle as the Deise forward slid to the ground in a most pronounced way to acknowledge the result.

Fitzgerald later revealed that someone had told Mullane that he (Fitzgerald) had said that Mullane was finished as a hurler, something he insisted was baseless.

Gracious

The Clare manager was pointed in his appreciation of Mullane in all the interviews he conducted and gracious in his acceptance of the result.

Waterford chairman Tom Cunningham acknowledged that a further incident had taken place in the dressing-room but was quickly diffused.

Cunningham enjoyed a good relationship with Fitzgerald during his time in Waterford as manager and spoke to him afterwards, when he expressed regret at the incidents.

"What was said and done was said in the heat of the moment, in the white heat of championship battle. I spoke to Davy alright. We have great time for Davy and what he did in Waterford," said Cunningham.

"I know John Mullane has great time for him too and I'm sure they will come to their own understanding in time.

"We just want to look forward to a fourth consecutive Munster final, which is a great achievement for this bunch of players."

The calm and composed nature of Fitzgerald's post-match comments was in stark contrast to the volley of abuse he directed at another Waterford player during a second-half incident highlighted by 'The Sunday Game' where he calls the player "a f****** bluffer" before adding that that "I have two All-Irelands, you have f*** all!"

Fitzgerald made his remarks as he appealed for what he felt was a line-ball for Clare that was waved the other way.

It was an insight at close quarters as to how engaged Fitzgerald can become in situations like these, how deep his passion runs.

The cut and thrust that goes with standing up to opponents, most of them bigger, and engaging them verbally, was a calling card for him as a player. Confrontation with Tipperary's towering Michael Webster in the mid-2000s was just one of several incidents.

It was a part of his artillery as a player and now seemingly as a manager too.

Sunday's outburst wasn't his first since returning to Clare hurling.

It was a similar appeal for a line-ball that saw Fitzgerald become the focus of attention in a previous sideline incident in April during the Division 1B final against Limerick.

Fitzgerald first became embroiled in a verbal exchange with rival manager John Allen over David Breen's challenge on young Clare defender James McInerney in front of them.

Then with Fitzgerald appealing for that subsequent line-ball, Limerick midfielder James Ryan came thundering into him, catching him in the midriff with his body and knocking him to the ground.

Fitzgerald was clearly in distress and Ryan was most fortunate not to face more serious censure than just a yellow card.

The incident had a knock-on effect, however, in riling the Clare players, who came from eight points down to win by two points.

And that may be the method behind Fitzgerald's sideline animation, as his subsequent take on that Ryan incident reflected.

"What actually happened with your man (James Ryan) was that it took his focus off the game," he said.

"He was actually cleaning us at the time but after that, we got more on top at midfield. I'll take a small little tip like that -- I've got a lot worse than that in my time. If it takes his focus off the game, delighted, that's no harm."

That culture of aggression and engagement on the sideline was evident in the Clare team that Fitzgerald made his name with.

CENSURE

In his memoirs 'Raising the Banner', Ger Loughnane outlined a deployment plan -- who would confront who on the Waterford management -- for himself and his selectors if the heat turned up in their infamous 1998 Munster final replay. The plan never had to come into operation.

Fitzgerald is unlikely to face any censure for his remarks, given that hundreds of similar incidents of 'sledging' take place on Gaelic football and hurling fields every year.

But with him there is always an element of box office to it.

Meanwhile, Clare are unlikely to communicate in any way with RTE over the use of the video clip on 'The Sunday Game' which illustrated Fitzgerald's anger over the line ball and subsequent jibe.

Clare chairman Michael O'Neill said the issue would be "parked" and quickly put behind them, while PRO Syl O'Connor offered the reflection that no other inter-county manager would be targeted in such a way.

"This is just a personal view but there are 63 or 64 inter-county managers involved in the games and I don't believe they would be scrutinised in this way," he said.

Irish Independent

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