John Mullane: 'It seems to be one rule for Davy Fitzgerald and another for everyone else'
After watching a cracking performance from Clare to bully Cork last Sunday, a display filled with fire in the belly, heart, pride and a never-say-die attitude, I couldn't help but think 'what if?'
If they had brought that same level of performance to the table against Tipperary and Limerick, their summer would still be alive and that was the biggest head scratcher leaving Cusack Park and gazing into the future.
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So where to now for Clare? Much was made in the build-up of players and management and how it was the end of the road as they were, like Waterford, drifting behind the top three.
That was quickly put to bed on a great day for the Banner as their minors also reinforced the many reasons to be optimistic going forward when qualifying for the Munster final. But will Gerry O'Connor and Donal Moloney still be at the senior wheel next year?
Their three years have passed without silverware and my gut feeling is that they will step aside and pass the baton to someone else. They owe nothing to Clare having given a decade of service at various grades.
I've never witnessed two men as driven as they were last Sunday and maybe they will look back with regret that they weren't more animated in other games, setting the tone for players between the white lines.
I was heading down for a cup of tea and a sandwich beforehand and passed by the Clare dressing room. I've never heard anything like the noise coming out of there. They were a different animal and meant business.
But O'Connor totally overstepped the mark when putting his hands on Daniel Kearney and if Davy Fitzgerald had done something similar, the public reaction would have been hysterical.
Davy would have been tarred and feathered by now with the GAA probably coming down hard with a significant ban. At the same time, Twitter would have exploded looking for his head.
It's incidents like that which must infuriate Fitzgerald as he has regularly alluded that it seems to be one rule for him and another for everyone else. If that was Davy, they'd be nailing him to the cross.
Ironically, if Gerry and Donal step aside, the odds will tumble on the possible return of Davy Fitz, who has a phenomenal record of taking over a county that's down in the dumps and turning things around.
Waterford in 2008, Clare in 2012, Wexford in 2017, could it be Clare again in 2020? Stranger things have happened and the age profile of this team is still on their side, with the majority in their mid to late 20s.
If Davy isn't the man, Clare can't look much further than Anthony Daly and Brian Lohan with the possibility of a partnership between the Banner legends. That was on the table before they graciously stepped aside for Donal and Gerry to take the reins.
Or would Clare be tempted to step outside the county for the first time since Len Gaynor (1992-'94) to steer the ship with the likes of Derek McGrath, Ciaran Carey and ex-Tipperary boss Michael Ryan springing to mind.
That trio are available, while I wonder could Anthony Cunningham be tempted away from the Roscommon footballers to go back to the small ball? One way or another, a decision needs to be made by the end of the summer to hit the ground running next year.
When they reflect on 2019, it will be filled with regret. Clare were unpredictable against Cork, the management pulling a joker from the pack and throwing Tony Kelly into the full-forward line. That had the Cork defence at sixes and sevens.
That set the template for game. More of this unpredictability is required going forward, regardless of who's in charge as Clare have become stale. Starting Kelly at corner-forward and inter-changing to the wing caused chaos and it's something I loved doing with Dan Shanahan. It's a nightmare for defenders.
When Tipp's Brendan Maher was detailed to man-mark Kelly, the last place he would have wanted or planned to end up was being exposed at corner-back. It's something Clare will have to consider going forward because it's too easy for the opposition to counteract his deep-lying No 11 role.
When players go back to their clubs in the next few weeks - some may head for the bright lights of America - they must watch from afar and realise that they could have given more in their two defeats.
Some are at a crossroads, but when you see players not involved this year - the likes of Conor McGrath, David Reidy, Jamie Shanahan and the returning Aaron Cunningham - there is serious potential to kick on.
If the position becomes available, it will generate serious interest from near and far because there's still a kick in Clare and enough time for them to reach the holy grail once again.