Saturday 25 November 2017

Comment: How Davy Fitzgerald's post-match comments harmed his cause

Davy Fitzgerald brings so much energy he could run the show from ‘the far side of the county’. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Davy Fitzgerald brings so much energy he could run the show from ‘the far side of the county’. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

"I don't think they'd do that to me," Davy Fitzgerald opined after he was asked if his now-infamous pitch infraction in Wexford's league semi-final defeat to Tipperary might lead to a suspension.

"It would be no fun if I was up there (in the stands). You'd have nothing to write about if I'm up there!"

As it turns out, they did do it to him. Yesterday morning the news broke that the GAA hit the Clare man with a proposed eight-week ban.

In truth, the GAA were left with little choice. Commentators this week unanimously agreed he had gone too far in Nowlan Park.

The very public nature of the incident that saw Fitzgerald square up to Tipperary pair Niall O'Meara and Jason Forde after encroaching on to the playing area meant the infraction couldn't be ignored.

Fitzgerald didn't do himself any favours afterwards either. His post-match admission that the move was premeditated backed Croke Park's disciplinary chiefs further into a corner.

"When Tipp start to get a blitz on you, you just have to... just try to make sure I could lift my lads a small bit," he told reporters.

"They responded after that, which was no harm, with a bit of fight. As it worked out, it didn't do any harm."

Those comments might have done harm when the GAA's disciplinary chiefs met this week as they meant the 'heat of the moment' defence was rendered useless. In the end, Croke Park hit him with a charge of 'misconduct at games by team officials'.

In the rule book a category II (a) offence covers 'any type of physical interference with an opposing player or team official'.

Fitzgerald's eight weeks was the minimum suspension for such an offence. The fact that time-based suspensions rather than game bans are in use, given how drastically different the punishments can be at varying stages of the season, is a matter for another day.

But in real terms Fitzgerald's suspension amounts to two games - an entire championship season for some counties.

Technically, he'll be ruled out of any GAA activity, as suspensions under the official guide preclude members from "all functions, privileges and competitions under the association's control".

That could be interpreted as meaning he could not be part of training over the next eight weeks. Though short of a GAA official landing to Wexford training to ensure he wasn't taking the session, that would be almost impossible to police.

However, the ban does mean that Fitzgerald will be sent to the stands for their championship opener against one of the teams that emerges from Leinster's round robin system on May 27/28. And assuming they win there, he'll also miss the clash with Kilkenny on June 10, with his suspension set to run its course just hours after that game.

It's a setback for a Wexford side whose stock has risen since Fitzgerald took charge. After years of being on the receiving end against the Cats, Wexford will be expected to roll into that game with a new sense of hope, if as expected they win their opener against the round robin side.

Their league quarter-final win in Nowlan Park - their first success there over Kilkenny in the league since 1957 - will still be fresh in the memory.

And they'll have a heaving Wexford Park behind them as they look to take down the Cats in the championship for the first time since Michael Jacob's strike sealed a famous win in Croke Park back in 2004.

And while he admits the situation is not ideal, Kilkenny's Cillian Buckley is confident that Fitzgerald will still be able to wield huge influence over his team over the course of his suspension.

"Davy Fitz is still going to be the Wexford manager and he's going to be running the show down there so I wouldn't be reading too much into it," said the Cats star.

"Look, I think with the energy he brings he could stand on the far side of the county and still be able to run the show.

"I couldn't see it affecting him too much no matter what happens but I think Davy Fitz will still be Wexford manager."

Wexford are expected to announce today whether they will pursue an appeal in the fragile world of GAA discipline, where cases can often collapse when put under the microscope. Certainly, some of the reprieves in recent seasons would embolden anyone thinking of challenging a ban.

Fitzgerald's disciplinary record could come into play too. This is his 28th consecutive season involved in top-level inter-county hurling, and while he is regularly in the news, he is rarely in the dock.

But should this ban stand, it's likely that Fitzgerald's absence from the sideline will be felt against Kilkenny.

And what was an attempt to "lift" his side will only damage them.

Irish Independent

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