Tuesday 23 January 2018

Davy Fitz circus holding Clare back

Davy Fitzgerald's Clare side suffered a one-point loss to Limerick last Sunday
Davy Fitzgerald's Clare side suffered a one-point loss to Limerick last Sunday

Eamonn Sweeney: Hold the back page

Poor Davy Fitzgerald. Last Sunday's loss to Limerick was Clare's third one-point defeat in a row. Which could mean that going into the final couple of minutes of each of those games he was still in with a chance of delivering the self-exculpatory post-match speech, "A lot of ye fellas criticised this team and our disciplinary system etc, etc," he's surely been saving up ever since the Davy O'Halloran affair.

Instead this rejoinder to his enemies must remain unspoken for the moment and will hardly have the same ring if he's forced to unfurl it after a qualifier victory over Westmeath or Laois. To lose one big game by a point might be considered unfortunate, but when a team comes out on the wrong end of three tight finishes in a row it's possible to discern a pattern.

It raises the question of whether Fitzgerald has become a liability to the Banner, not least because of their form over the last year: just one win in 11 competitive games.

Yet there hasn't been much discussion about Clare's form; instead the focus has been on the manager's personality. Looking at his latest media meltdown this day last week, it struck me how much slack Fitzgerald gets cut. Last year there were stories of an alleged refusal to come out of the dressing-room in time for the second half, and a bust-up with a journalist in the tunnel. This year there had already been what could be construed as bullying behaviour towards O'Halloran.

The interview with the usual failure to admit that Clare had been beaten by a better team on the day, what seemed like a shabby dig at Donal O'Grady and a general sense of a man verging on hysteria was pretty much par for the course at this stage. Any other inter-county manager who behaved like this would come in for harsh criticism, but when it's the Clare boss the attitude seems to be, "Ah, it's only Davy Fitz."

I'm not sure this is helping the man. Because over the last 12 months he seems to be adopting the same attitude himself, "Ah it's just me, this is what I'm like." The Davy Fitz throws a tantrum stuff seems to have hardened into a kind of showbiz-style shtick.

This would be his own business of course, were it not for that nine per cent win rate since April of last year. Fitzgerald has been lucky to inherit perhaps the best set of hurlers in Ireland. The players who've won three of the last four under 21 All-Ireland titles, and won them in some style, are an exceptional crew. You'd imagine the priority would be to simply give them some stability and keep things on an even keel.

Instead they seem just as needlessly hyped up as their manager, the silly stuff before half-time in Thurles which cost them the services of Pat Donnellan and probably the game itself being a case in point. Their tendency to concede large numbers of scorable frees also points towards a shortage of discipline when the pressure comes on.

At some stage the Clare County Board are going to have to decide if it's fair to ask a man to control a team when he doesn't seem able to control himself. Either that or Fitzgerald is going to have to try and change. His routine got old a long time ago and nobody's laughing anymore.

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