Tuesday 20 February 2018

Brendan Cummins: His mentor crossed the line and now Davy Fitzgerald has too

Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald and Tipperary’s Jason Forde square up to each other during last week’s league semi-final. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald and Tipperary’s Jason Forde square up to each other during last week’s league semi-final. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

In any attempt to understand Davy Fitzgerald's behaviour, it's important to acknowledge where he comes from. He's a chip off the old block, a modern-day Ger Loughnane.

His mentor Loughnane crossed the line and now Davy has too. For years, Davy has worn his heart on his sleeve, roaring at referees and opposition players.

On more than one occasion, he has been picked up by TV microphones but these rants have been referred to as moments of 'character' from a man 'adding colour to the game'. Having escaped censure for many expletive-ridden outbursts, the natural extension was to leave the confines of the manager's area and enter the playing field to make a point.

He decided it was time to see how far he could push the boundaries. Too far, as it turned out. You simply can't push opposition players out of your way as you march towards a referee.

The punishment fits the crime. Davy's been slapped with an eight-week ban and he can't have any complaints. The rule's there in black and white, he's flouted it and now it's time to face the consequences.

It's a credit to the players on the pitch that last Sunday's incident didn't get seriously out of hand. Ten years ago, you'd have had a queue waiting in the Croke Park corridors to face disciplinary officials, because the chance of a massive free-for-all was far greater then.

The modern player is disciplined and in control, and Davy should take a leaf out of that book. On this occasion, he was completely off the charts.

Besides, if any man was entitled to run onto the pitch, it was Tipp manager Michael Ryan, whose team got just three frees in the entire game.

When Davy enters a county, something happens. He's now with Wexford, who ran Clare to extra-time in a 2013 qualifier. A year later, they dumped the Banner, the All-Ireland champions, out of the competition.

He has raw materials to work with but Wexford lack confidence and belief. Davy and Wexford, in that regard, is a marriage made in heaven.

The hype around Wexford has to be managed and an element of discipline is required. Unfortunately, that discipline was lost when Davy entered the pitch.

The bigger question I've been tossing around in my mind is this: what drove him to do it? As a player, you sometimes look back on managers who brought you success.

Davy Fitzgerald's mentor Ger Loughnane. Photo: Aoife Rice/Sportsfile
Davy Fitzgerald's mentor Ger Loughnane. Photo: Aoife Rice/Sportsfile

And as a coach learning my trade now, I've been in situations where I've asked myself 'what would Nicky English or Liam Sheedy do?'

I feel Davy is no different and he'll remember how Loughnane (far right) reacted in times of crisis.

He operates off the same levels of intensity and passion as Loughnane did. Sure, he has a tactical awareness that's applicable to the modern game but a huge part of his philosophy is based on anger and siege mentality. Many things are grassy knoll conspiracy theories.

He saw what brought success to a previously underachieving Clare team so why wouldn't he do the same thing himself with Wexford?

I also wonder if there was an anxiety in Davy before the Tipp game.

After all, he has built a team based on confidence and hype; he's trying to get those players to believe in themselves. But Tipp are a team that can take your belief away for the rest of the summer in a matter of minutes. They scored 2-4 without reply to take the game away from Wexford and all of a sudden, your nights of hard work and telling these players they are good enough counts for little.

Davy realised that this could happen at any time, and that concern led him to disrupt the pattern of play, to create chaos.

Now, how are his players going to react to what some people will call hype, but others will view as distraction?

As a player, you want to stay under the radar as much as possible, but the Wexford panel are now finding themselves asked questions by reporters and fans on the street.

What's Davy doing in training? What's he saying? How are ye reacting?

And what happens now he won't be on the line?

His backroom men are now wondering who will control sideline operations come Championship time, who will look after the media work? These are the by-products of walking 20 yards onto a pitch to confront a referee before getting involved with opposition players.

Wexford were also fitter than any other team, up to now. They ran their opponents into the ground, but Tipp asked them if they could see out the last ten or 15 minutes after expending so much energy. They didn't have the answers.

Davy was sailing close to the wind and now he'll pay a heavy price. But we have an unbelievable summer of hurling ahead of us and from now, that needs to be the focus.

There can be no more sideshows.

Irish Independent

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