Wednesday 20 November 2019

Cyril Farrell: Donal Óg Cusack's appointment is Davy Fitzgerald going for broke

Donal Óg can bring X-factor to Banner as they aim to scale 2013 heights

Davy Fitzgerald is bringing Donal Og Cusack as part of his back-room team SPORTSFILE
Davy Fitzgerald is bringing Donal Og Cusack as part of his back-room team SPORTSFILE

Cyril Farrell

One of the reasons we love hurling is that your greatest enemy on the field can often be your greatest friend off it.

For years, Davy Fitzgerald and Donal Óg Cusack stood at opposite ends of the pitch, two entirely different characters but two driven hurling men who know what it takes to win.

There would always have been massive mutual respect, but yesterday's appointment of Donal Óg as a coach/selector shows that Davy will go to any length to get Clare back to the heights of 2013.

It came like a bolt from the blue for most but I knew he was thinking of something big and adventurous. He has certainly pulled the joker from the deck and he's definitely going for broke.

After losing the services of Paul Kinnerk, Davy had to aim big and if it works, it'll be considered a masterstroke. It's great for the game with the two of them on the sideline and maybe getting themselves in a bit of trouble.

It's just what the hurling public wants to see after a year which failed to hit the heights of previous seasons.

If Clare win with Donal Óg, they'll get a big fuss and if they lose it's Davy that will bear the brunt, not Donal Óg or anyone else. The manager carries the can but he's well used to that at this stage.


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Davy has gotten a lot of stick over the last couple of years in his own county, and because of their subsequent displays, people are quick to forget that he guided them to the Liam MacCarthy Cup only two years ago.

He's had a hand in three of Clare's four senior All-Irelands but it shows you how much pressure managers are under nowadays. Supporters thought they were going to win two or three in a row and the expectations just weren't realistic.

Fitzy would feel that Clare have the players and the skill to do it, but they need to go in a new direction, so who better than Donal Óg to help lead them on that journey.

When he walks into a dressing-room, he'll command the respect of all players. He's done it all as a player; that's invaluable but he also walks the walk when it comes to knowledge of the modern game.

His understanding of what it takes to be competitive at the highest level, and the continuous strive for professionalism in all aspects of preparation, is craved by modern hurlers.

While it's his first venture into inter-county management, I've no doubt there's a bright future ahead.

He'll learn the ropes and bounce a lot of ideas off Davy, I think they'll learn from each other.

Donal Óg is a top coach and they're going to be on the same wavelength with regards to their style of play and I expect a big emphasis on the three P's: pace, possession and precision.

They're both big into tactics and there could be three or four different plans for one game, maybe even in one half.

If ever there was a players' man, Donal Óg is, and he will know what it takes to get the best out of lads: I expect him to improve them no end and this can only be good for Clare's development.

Having worked with him on The Sunday Game, I saw how he brought analysis to a whole new level. He loves hurling and he's a student of the game, he lives for it.

He thinks outside the realm and is a true innovator. His short puckouts and Cork's possession game changed the face of hurling and I expect we will see things that we haven't witnessed before.

He watches things and pinpoints areas for improvement and aspects of the opposition's play that can be exploited. And I bet the boss man down in Kilkenny is smiling at all of this.

Brian Cody loves attention being taken away from them and this is another hurdle to jump next year if they are to claim yet another three-in-a-row.

This is a stepping stone for Cusack. I often joked that when he takes over a county team that we'd be all over him. I could always see his future was going to be coaching and managing teams and I can see him training Cork in the future.

This is the first position in what will likely be a long career in inter-county management. You can see the wheel already beginning to turn in Cork and when he cuts his teeth at it, he could be Rebel manager in four or five years' time.

The Banner have dropped off the radar so 2016 is massive year and by Davy doing this, he's essentially saying, 'this is it, we're good enough, you can't be looking for any more, let's get our act together'.

The quality is still there to win an All-Ireland, they have pace and they have the hurling. They're still relatively young but they have experience and I think they'll be very hungry next year.

There will have been some serious soul-searching done since their loss to Cork; players will have looked themselves in the mirror and asked serious questions.

They will want to get back training and stop the talking now. They've had the taste of success: the All Stars, the great nights and the holidays, but the celebrations are long gone.

They'd give anything to get that taste again and no matter what Davy and Donal Óg do, it's the boys inside the white lines that will ultimately win or lose the game.

The best hurlers in the county, including Podge Collins, are available again and they have the best backroom team as well. They have given the players the best chance to win the All-Ireland.

It's like a big signing in soccer or rugby and it has created a big buzz around hurling circles, and it's only October. Exciting times ahead.

Irish Independent

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