Ryan's barbs only the start for Davy
Hurling champions must learn to live with the hits
Published 22/01/2014 | 02:30
It wasn't the question that Davy Fitzgerald would have expected. Intercepted by journalists half-way across the pitch in Sixmilebridge after watching his largely second-string Clare team launch the season with an impressive win over Limerick last Sunday, he talked through the basics of a satisfactory afternoon in his home town.
All very routine and predictable for a pre-season game in January, but on this occasion, something else needed to be cleared up. What did he think of comments made minutes earlier by Limerick joint-manager TJ Ryan, who questioned the legality of Clare's tackling?
It was the first Davy heard of it, so he paused for a second before responding. When he did, it was characteristically forthright.
"TJ's off the charts," he said. "That's ridiculous stuff. The tackling was good. That's the way it's done. Welcome to the big leagues, TJ."
Naturally, Fitzgerald's feisty invitation to his Limerick rival made the headlines on Monday. It has also drawn further reaction since then, including comments from some quarters that Ryan's remarks were justified.
Really? I was at the game and saw no basis whatsoever for allegations that Clare were up to any devious tricks.
Hell, this was a cobweb-remover in January, not a Munster final. Besides, Clare had so many newcomers aboard that it's difficult to see how they could have been tutored so masterfully in black arts.
Ryan said he was dubious about what he termed "this new Clare tackling system" and queried how it was being judged "from a refereeing point of view."
He alleged that when an opponent loses the ball, he gets wrapped up by a Clare man, while a Banner colleague steams in and wins possession.
"Is that a Waterford Crystal (tournament) rule or a league rule? Is it legal? There's a lot of it happening so, if you can't beat them, join them, isn't that what they say?" added Ryan.
My take on last Sunday's game was that Clare were much quicker to the breaking ball and that Limerick management might well wonder why their guys didn't arrive at the point of action with equal speed and intent. Instead, Ryan chose to question Clare's tackling.
All of this might appear like a harmless early season spat, but I wonder?
It's most unusual for a team boss to raise questions about the opposition's style in a pre-season game, unless, of course, there's a longer-term agenda.
Could Ryan be talking more generally about Clare's approach, perhaps even trying to place a marker for later in the season? Were his remarks influenced by the manner in which Clare squeezed the life out of Limerick in last year's All-Ireland semi-final?
Is he now attempting to create an impression of Clare as clever law-breakers who need to be watched? Are you listening, referees?
Only Ryan can answer those questions, but, whatever his motivation, he succeeded in sowing seeds of doubt about Clare's methods. In my view, they aren't remotely justifiable, but once a theory is floated - however baseless it might be - it can take on an uncontrollable life of its own.
But then it's familiar territory for All-Ireland champions. Kilkenny hurlers had to live with it for a long time, standing accused of 'playing on the edge'.
Truly, a bizarre accusation since superiority on the margins often decides games. So where else should a team operate? Besides, if 'the edge' proved such fertile territory for Kilkenny why didn't others join them?
Kilkenny's extended dominance was largely responsible for the whispering campaign against them, but longevity at the summit is not always required to draw negative comments about a team's approach.
It started for Armagh not long after winning the 2002 All-Ireland final and once Tyrone got into their powerful stride, they too drew regular criticisms.
And if Donegal had won the two-in-a-row last year, there would probably be motions before Congress next month proposing that their style be outlawed. Are Clare hurlers now in danger of being herded down a path where agenda-driven gossip is used against them?
Following Ryan's comments last Sunday, all it would take is for another rival manager or two to publicly question Clare's style and suddenly they are under suspicion and in a land where the benefit of the doubt becomes increasingly elusive.
Fitzgerald welcomed Ryan to the "big league" last Sunday but he himself is actually heading for an even bigger test. It's the Champions League, a demanding landscape where carefully placed questioning of the style used by All-Ireland winners can carry as much threat to their prospects as the playing capacity of the opposition.
Coping with it is one extra chore which Fitzgerald will face this year. That's the lesson to take out of Sixmilebridge.
Royals and Lilywhites' free-scoring exploits sure to draw crowds for O'Byrne cup decider
IF EVENTS over the last few weeks are anything to go by, the scoreboard operator in Newbridge will need a good night's sleep on Saturday in preparation for a busy afternoon on Sunday when Kildare play Meath in the O'Byrne Cup final.
Meath have totalled 12-58 in their four games against DIT, Carlow, Wicklow and DCU, while Kildare's attack has yielded 13-72 against Athlone IT, Longford, Carlow and UCD.
It leaves Kildare's average per game on just under 3-19, with Meath on close to 3-15.
The prospect of another feast of scoring should set the St Conleth's Park turnstiles clicking on Sunday.
Sometimes common sense fairer than democracy
"THERE is no alternative to democracy," writes Munster Council secretary Simon Moroney in his annual report.
He is referring to the controversy which resulted in Clare, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford withdrawing from the McGrath Cup in protest at the manipulation of the Munster football draw so that Cork and Kerry could not meet until the final this year.
He explains the procedure which applied in reaching that decision and says majority rule must be respected.
From a technical viewpoint, Moroney is correct, but that doesn't alter the reality that a majority vote in favour of a proposition doesn't always reach the right decision.
That's very definitely the case in Munster football where, for reasons which defy logic, Cork and Kerry were handed all the aces. More shamefully still, it was done with the support of some of the so-called weaker counties, who later discovered that their players would not tolerate the sell-out.
The players might regard common sense as a fairer alternative to democracy.