Monday 22 January 2018

'Hurling isn't as big a deal - there is a lot more to life' - Davy Fitzgerald

Davy Fitz reveals how a stark change of mindset has helped rekindle his love for the game

Davy Fitzgerald shouts instructions to his Clare players during last month’s league final replay win over Waterford, who will be bidding for revenge in Thurles on Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile
Davy Fitzgerald shouts instructions to his Clare players during last month’s league final replay win over Waterford, who will be bidding for revenge in Thurles on Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The country's principal impersonators who have taken to doing a number on Davy Fitzgerald may have to give the act a significant makeover.

Because the once combustible one is looking at the game and his involvement in it through a much different lens these days.

In Thurles for both league finals the odd sideline device went off but was quickly brought under control with a smile as if his intervention was designed just to make things a little more interesting.

He admits that at the end of last year, he made a pact with himself to change his approach.

In truth the change was already happening over the summer months, if his measured appraisal of the Cork qualifier defeat was anything to gauge by.

The addition of new coaching layers, Donal Og Cusack, Paul Kinnerk and Aengus O'Brien and the presence of PR consultant Mark Dunphy appear to have lessened the load on him.

He's enjoying the game again, maybe even more than 2013. In the course of a 30-minute interview at Clare's magnificent centre of excellence in Caherlohan last week ahead of this weekend's Munster semi-final with Waterford, more than once he espoused the simple joy of being a front-line manager again, just being involved in the biggest games.


It is of course easier to say that when you're winning. Clare are on the crest of a wave with a 13-match unbeaten run taking them through Munster and Allianz leagues. But Fitzgerald wants you to know that change was coming anyway.

The passion will always burn but the flames, he insists, will be a different colour. Hurling, he says, isn't a "big deal". Smouldering, over-sensitive Davy has made way for philosophical Davy.

"People will have this thing that I will be roaring and shouting in the dressing-room and driving them mad. No! There is a lot more to life," he reasoned.

"Let's really look at what is happening around us. There are big problems out there. There are problems with health, people who are very young struggling with health. Feckin' hell. We are going out playing a game of hurling. The bigger the day the better.

"Go out and perform, and if you make mistakes? We made mistakes the last day and it nearly cost us. I guarantee, not one thing was said to those players about making a mistake.

"It might happen the next day. If they give me everything and we walk in having left every single ounce outside there, I am telling you there will be handshakes from Clare and fair play, but Jesus, it is not a big deal.

"We will be doing everything and will be disappointed for a few hours. But life is a funny thing and I don't think we appreciate it enough.

"Recently, someone in their mid-40 that I know passed away. And I was thinking 'Davy boy, you're involved in hurling here. And there is abuse and this, that and the other. But this is a game. Go out and let it rip.'"

The man who too often let any little adverse utterance about his team fester for too long now prefers to let it go, with advice from Cusack well heeded.

"I made a decision at the end of last year," he reveals. "I was getting kicked left, right and centre in certain places and do you know what? I have fantastic people around me in Clare, love them.

"I have a great bunch of guys that stood by me unreal. And you know, I just made up my own mind to stay inside that. I can't do anything about what ye write or what other people say. That would have bothered me a lot at one stage.

"Now that's it, I can do what I can do, I've been so lucky. When I think back on it, Clare wouldn't have been a historically (successful) county. I've been so lucky. I've got to play on the biggest days, I've got to win on the biggest days and I've got to win everything as a manager.

"Donal Óg actually said to me recently 'boy, you've done everything, what are you at?' And it set me thinking 'let's enjoy it'.

"I didn't actually enjoy the All-Ireland (in 2013) enough, because I knew what was coming: when you are up there, there's only one place you are going to go and you are probably going to get kicked left, right and centre.

"I have regret; I should have enjoyed it way more. That's why the league, I've enjoyed it. But I don't know what's going to happen the next day."

He has more than an inkling, though, that the script won't deviate too much from what it was over the two days of league finals. The absence of enjoyment bit, the prophecies of doom though, he can't fathom.

"Like, was the first game not great because there were no goals? Like, is that why they say it wasn't a classic?" he asks. "Like, if you can score from 50, 60, 70, yards out with a man right up your ass and putting pressure on you, that's a score.

"There were no scores between ourselves and Waterford got easily. Do you want loose men scoring goals from ten yards out? I think it is tactically one of the biggest battles. You are looking every two seconds for the match-ups. They (Waterford) have this thing where they play a cordon across the middle. . . they are nearly touching hands.

"I know there are philosophies out there. Pep Guardiola feels that if you win at midfield you win the game. We would probably be the same.

"Would we naturally set up the way we did for the last two games? No. But when you have so many bodies across the middle, if we were to leave them loose, they would go point, point, point, point. They are a savage team to work a quick pass.

"So that's why it is crowded. The middle third is everything. You say it's dog eat dog: this is wolf on wolf. You have no choice. You have to react to that. In the other sense, if we break them down they have to react to what we do. We go into a certain way straight away."

Fitzgerald says Clare simply can't allow the Déise to play the game on their terms.

"Waterford play a particular style that suits them. And Derek McGrath is a very smart guy. I was mad for him to be involved with me in Waterford when I was there. He has a system that suits his team.

"We have looked at it and we have to set up a certain way at the start. But I am sure they have looked at us for shapes we play and things we do. It is tactical. It is both teams trying to impose their game. If they leave us loose, we will hurt them. If we leave them loose, they will hurt us."

Fitzgerald's mind was drawn back to the final seconds of the replay, and he said that with Tony Kelly "nothing he does surprises me".

A first league title for the Banner in 38 years has already given the season so much meaning for them and they treasure it.

"I remember when he got the free, it was the first free he got all day and it was a big call to get him to hit it," said Fitzgerald. "But I felt he was on fire that day and that he wanted the ball. If you have a player who is on form and is looking to go at teams. . .

"Did I expect him to go to the other end of the field? He has a licence to go where he wants to, fair play to him. And no matter what happens for the rest of the year, they can't take away that Clare won their first league in 38 years and I take that very seriously."

Irish Independent

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