Sunday 24 September 2017

'I wanted to show them they are like my family' - Davy Fitz

Davy Fitz recalls the night 19 players came to his sitting room and sowed seeds of success

Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald celebrates with John Conlon at the end of the game
Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald celebrates with John Conlon at the end of the game
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Davy Fitzgerald remembers it as a "special night," their moment of catharsis.

Outside the cars of the 19 players he had invited to the 'house on the hill' on the fringes of his native Sixmilebridge were bumper-to-bumper.

Inside there was Miwadi and biscuits for the guests laid out on a table – fig rolls, custard creams and digestives.

Earlier in the day Fitzgerald had gone to the local shop and purchased the provisions himself. The personal touch.

It was a night for truth and reconnection with the plan. It was also a night when the manager wanted to show what the players meant to him personally. So he threw open the doors of his home.

The day before Cork had filleted them. On his way back down from conducting interviews he heard how one of his selectors, Louis Mulqueen, had been struck with a match programme by a woman who advised her target to "take your short game and shove it where the sun don't shine."

He himself recalls being "dogged" by abuse over their tactical approach.

So they came to the 'Bridge that night, not to purge themselves of those memories, but to harness them. Davy and his family.

SPECIAL

"I wanted to show them that they're like my family. I wanted them to see... I said it to them, people who are special to me come into my front sitting room and sit down and spend time with me," Fitzgerald recalled.

"We spent three hours in my front sitting room that night. I remember all the cars being parked out the front and the back. And do you know, we had an unbelievable chat that night. There was no throwing stones. We sat and we had a chat. You would not believe it, the whole of my sitting room, I had the forwards at one end and I had the backs and I got them a bit of paper and said: 'write down what you think'.

"Then we talked out the points in the sitting room. I was thinking to myself afterwards, 'this is unreal.' And I wanted them to see how much they meant to me. It was an unreal experience, even for me. I remember going down the street and buying the Miwadi orange and biscuits and having them on the table when they came in. If Joe O'Connor, our sports scientist, knew I did that, he'd be cracking with me.

"To be in the house that night, I remember my son (Colm) was there. It was a hard thing. We all felt terrible, but we discussed it and we reckoned we came up with seven goal chances that we had created. We reckoned we were not that bad. We thought Cork were a really decent team, but we knew there were flaws that we needed to address and we just vowed that we'd go back and work harder than ever. And they did. They're a great bunch to talk to."

The Miwadi and biscuits weren't charged to expenses, but as an investment it might just have been his best ever punt.

Three months on in the foyer of a quiet Clyde Court Hotel on Dublin's southside the Liam MacCarthy Cup sits to one side of Clare's principal as he explains the journey.

Fitzgerald harnesses hurt better than most. He recalls more angst from the stands after their defeat to Waterford in the league in February and the notion that he was destroying hurling in the county. The genesis of their short, pinpoint passing game, he claims, is not for auction now.

"That's what makes it more satisfying now. It's funny, you have so many fellas coming out saying they changed Clare hurling. I think it's great.

"I'm looking back six months ago, there wasn't too many of them saying they had anything to do with Clare hurling. It's just that I was destroying it," he recalled.

"The one thing I'm happy about personally is that I had a belief and I didn't waver when it was, trust me, easy to waver.

"I can remember the days, I'll tell you straight, the difference in waking up this morning and the difference in waking up after the Waterford and Tipperary league games," he ventured.

"I would take things very personally and I would not be in a good spot after we lose games. I go home and I'm not a good person to be around. I take it to heart something wicked and I'd wake up the next morning and, as a Clare man, I took those defeats massively to heart.

"When you're getting absolutely slaughtered at the same time, it doesn't help. You don't want to go down to the shop, you don't want to go any place. No matter what criticism you're getting, you're feeling so bad yourself. My whole dream was to see Clare being successful.

"People don't like it when you're out there and when you show that bit of... I suppose when you let yourself go. I would fight on my back if I believe in something. Some people like it, some people don't. I've got to accept that, some people will and some people won't. I just have to deal with that. It isn't easy – you want everyone to like you, but it's not going to work. I'd like to think I have a good heart in me, but everyone isn't going to like you."

The season has been interwoven with Cork through six meetings. They lost just one and Davy admits now that he half expected it. The die had been cast in April when they survived the relegation battle.

He recalls a discussion with his father, long time Clare secretary Pat, just before that relegation play-off and the balancing act he felt lay ahead.

"We had beaten Cork in the Waterford Crystal and in the league and I was sitting with dad and I said: 'I don't think we can win the two of them, if I asked you now, which would you prefer to win, what would you think?'

"And he said to me: 'I think we need to stay in one (Division 1A) and I think we'll get another chance at the championship'. That was my feeling myself and that was genuine. Even though we could have won the semi-final, I felt that if we beat Cork in the relegation, they were going to come out like absolute men possessed in the (Munster) semi-final. I knew it was going to be hard, but I still think to win the relegation was a massive thing for us as a team."

Fitzgerald has now completed the second year of a three-year term since taking over from former playing colleague Ger O'Loughlin, a man he credited yesterday with beginning the "weeding out" process.

"In my view 'Sparrow' had started the process. Our culture in Clare for a while was not good. I believe we didn't mind ourselves and I said that to the players.

"I don't believe that we got the best out of ourselves in the mid 2000s. You can't be a social animal and hope to play well.

"I think in fairness Mike Mac (McNamara) had them and (Tony) Considine had their time and fair play to them all, I'm not going to knock anyone no matter how I feel, everyone did their best. 'Sparrow' had the toughest job, Mike Mac did well getting to a Munster final, 'Sparrow' came in and he had to start from scratch. He started the weeding out, I had to go and do a bit more and it came together, but there was a job to be done."

Whatever happens they will stick by the guiding principles that got them to where they are today, he insists.

"We have a code, if I am in charge next year you will stick by the code, you will not break it. We have principles and I would like to think that we will stick by the principles."

Irish Independent

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