Tuesday 20 March 2018

Comment: Davy Fitzgerald saga epitomises brutal reality of the modern-day relationship between manager and players

Davy Fitzgerald and (inset top) Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly and (inset below) Anthony Cunningham
Davy Fitzgerald and (inset top) Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly and (inset below) Anthony Cunningham
Davy Fitzgerald Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Sometimes, it seems, winning an All-Ireland title just isn't enough.

As for winning the Allianz League for the first time in 38 years, apparently it counts for nothing.

That's the obvious conclusion to be reached from reports of Davy Fitzgerald's impending departure as Clare hurling manager, amid unrest among some of the players.

Fitzgerald didn't formally commit himself for another year after Clare's defeat by Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final but it was widely understood that he would stay on.

However, in recent days rumblings of player unrest surfaced and, as Anthony Cunningham (Galway), and Pat Holmes/Noel Connelly (Mayo) discovered last year, it's all over bar the resignation once that starts.

That's the brutal reality of the modern-day relationship between manager and players. Managers can resist and make their case, but players have the ultimate authority.

Irrespective of the circumstances, they are usually deemed to be right and since there's safety in numbers, there's little a manager can do except step back. Players don't even have to explain publicly why they are unhappy with the manager.

Fitzgerald has had his critics in Clare almost from the start of his term. Even when they won the 2013 All-Ireland title - only the county's fourth - the occasional sniping comment was directed towards Fitzgerald.

And when they did badly in their attempt to retain the title in 2014, most of the blame was whooshed in his direction.

And so it has carried on since then, with some high-profile figures in Clare continuing to snipe away at Fitzgerald. His offence was a failure to lead Clare into a dominant position on the hurling landscape, which was expected in the county after three successive All-Ireland U-21 title wins.

History is dotted with examples of U-21 wins not leading to senior glory (Limerick won three successive U-21s in 2000-'01-'02 and made no progress at senior level), but the view in Clare was that they had a special group who should be doing better.

This year's league success briefly eased the pressure on Fitzgerald but when Waterford avenged their league final defeat in the Munster semi-final, the knives were prepared for sharpening again.

And when Galway beat Clare in the All-Ireland quarter-final, Fitzgerald knew he was fair game for the heaviest barrage of criticism. The fact that Clare lost to Waterford, who have improved beyond all recognition in the last 18 months, and Galway, last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists, offered Fitzgerald no protection from attacks.

Now, if players have their ears accosted by whispers of how they would do better under a different manager, it's going to have an impact.All the more so if the whisperers are high-profile figures.

Read more: Martin Breheny: History shows that Kilkenny respond forcefully to predictions of their demise

There are several would-be candidates in Clare who believe they would do a much better job than Fitzgerald or any other manager for that matter.

Given that climate, anything less than a Munster title win and/or an All-Ireland final appearance this year was always going to lead to dark mutterings of discontent.

Instead, Clare exited at the last-six stage, heaping the pressure on Fitzgerald.

Eaten bread is easily forgotten, which appears to be very much the case in Clare.

After all, they lost only two competitive games this season, are the current league champions and it's only three years since they won the All-Ireland title.

It's a trophy haul that would leave every county, with the exception of Kilkenny and Tipperary, envious but obviously it's not anything like enough in Clare.

And since someone has to take the blame, Fitzgerald is an easy target.

Irish Independent

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