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Colm O'Rourke: No paleface speaks up for Indians as Clare circle wagons

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'Were O’Halloran and Nicky O’Connell’s crimes so bad that sending them to the Gulags was the only sentence?'

'Were O’Halloran and Nicky O’Connell’s crimes so bad that sending them to the Gulags was the only sentence?'

SPORTSFILE

'Were O’Halloran and Nicky O’Connell’s crimes so bad that sending them to the Gulags was the only sentence?'

The obvious question to ask about the statement from the Clare hurlers professing undying love for the team and management is, who cares?

This is not Manchester United or the New York Yankees. Reuters were not waiting for this statement to brief the world's press, there was no 'hold the back page' on this one. This is Clare, it is not even Kilkenny or Kerry. Of course, those two do not do big statements - they do their talking on the pitch. Clare are like most counties who get a little bit of success now and then - happy making a big statement about all of them being happy campers. It comes across to me as completely manufactured. They are taking themselves much too seriously.

Putting on a brave face to the world looks good but who said that any team camp had to be all sweetness and light? A county side is not the Waltons. There is always plenty of tension. Some players think they should be on the team, others are unhappy about being taken off, there are disagreements between players, some end up being sorted with a few punches in training. This is the real world of top-class sport.

As a group, the Clare hurlers were a breath of fresh air when this new team came on the scene in 2013. Their style, freedom of expression and athleticism was enjoyable to watch. Kilkenny have taken standards and domination in hurling to such a level that the public likes to see change, so Clare looked the natural antidote to the everlasting reign of the Cats.

The wheels came off last year, though. Davy Fitzgerald spent his time moaning about conspiracies, referees and other outside forces. It all became quite tiresome and it would have been better all round if Davy had retreated from centre stage and left it to the players.

When a couple of younger players express their opinion, they are entitled to it. If Davy O'Halloran feels he was humiliated, then that is what he feels. It is cutting close to the bone of course, given Davy Fitzgerald's previous openness in talking about being bullied growing up. If there is even a shred of truth in what O'Halloran said then it reflects badly on everyone involved. Was there no senior player or part of the management who could have brought him back into the fold? Were O'Halloran and Nicky O'Connell's crimes so bad that sending them to the Gulags was the only sentence?

This whole thing shines a light on a new practice which is seemingly common in many teams where there is an agreed set of rules and penalties laid down at the start of the year. To me, the intention seems to be to stop young men having a life. Rules and regulations surrounding training, late nights and intrusions into a player's private life seem the norm. Players are bigger fools to sign up to this. If you are committed and willing to make big sacrifices to play at county level then that should be enough. This whole practice is turning players into robots.

Neither Roy Keane nor Eric Cantona worried too much about what they said or did. Alex Ferguson not only tolerated but actively encouraged them because on the big days they did the business. If they had played for Clare they would have been dropped off the panel and none of their team-mates would utter a word of discontent. A great team needs to have strong characters and a good manager has the self-confidence to allow them to flourish - within limits of course.

If there had been some type of behavioural contract being foisted on the Meath team when I was playing it would not have lasted a week. Even better, it would never have been accepted by the players. Nobody had to sign up to show commitment, you were expected to do the right thing and if you did not then you were dropped. Sean Boylan was never that blunt though, he generally told a player he should go back to his club for a while. It was the same as sending him to Siberia but Boylan could do it all in a very nice way.

The other accepted practice seems to be a drinking ban. Cue more laughter. If you have to try and impose this then you are really in trouble. What happens if the best player has a glass of shandy on a hot summer's day because he is thirsty? Do you throw him off the team and ruin your chance of success? Hard cases make for bad law.

Players need to be encouraged to live proper lives away from GAA pitches. Their whole being should not be dependent on what they do with ball or stick. The increasingly professionalised player is a contradiction: well educated but caught up in a world where individualism is lost in favour of being bland, with nothing interesting to do or say.

It is easy for me to say this after tasting success. Plenty of others might say that, in different circumstances, I would have gone along with almost anything to try to win an All-Ireland. Maybe. But I would like to think that agreeing to something silly like the Clare rule book for county training sessions and matches would not have been one of them.

PJ Mara, in jest (or maybe not), once uttered the famous phrase, 'Uno Duce, Una Voce' when talking about Charles Haughey. More famously, he said "there will be no more nibbling at my leader's bum". It is not supposed to be like that in the GAA.

In Clare two players have now been lost overboard without as much as one comrade willing to throw them a lifeline. Seems rather harsh from the outside. The players, according to their statement, want to "move forward united to continue to enjoy working hard for Clare hurling". Players in every county work for their own benefit first and foremost; nothing wrong with that either but it is important not to mix up the horse and the cart.

The Clare team and management have circled the wagons. It may suit Davy Fitzgerald to do so with a number of big games coming up. Davy O'Halloran and Nicky O'Connell are the Indians on the outside. History repeats itself, there was no paleface to speak up for the redskins.

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