Clare facing meltdown
McNamara's defiant stand could start major player conflict
THE wind has dropped somewhat in Clare, but whether it's a sign of better conditions ahead or merely a brief lull before the onset of a severe hurricane is uncertain.
County Board leaders Michael O'Neill and Pat Fitzgerald are to launch a diplomatic initiative to locate a compromise in the dispute which led to the panel seeking a replacement of the management team. The pair do so with the support of the clubs who made it clear at Tuesday night's meeting that they were deeply unhappy over the circumstances which led to this crisis.
Rumours swept through Clare early in the week that manager Mike McNamara was set to unload his biggest barrels in the direction of the panel on Tuesday night, prior to resigning. What transpired instead was that McNamara delivered a measured end-of-year review to the delegates, which he concluded by declaring that he would be guided by what was right for Clare hurling.
The delegates pledged their backing to McNamara at a previous meeting and while the players since voted 'no confidence' (26-1) in management, clubs were unhappy with the manner in which the squad had gone about its business.
Initially, they had submitted a letter to the County Board which was deemed out of order because it hadn't been signed. The second letter, although signed by the 26 rebels, didn't impress the clubs either because it failed to explain why the players had no confidence in the management.
It read: "The Clare senior hurling panel of 2009 would like to give its views of management. On a secret ballot, one player expressed 'confidence' in the management team, 26 expressed 'no confidence,' while the decision on examining the issue with regard to the management of teams rests with our clubs and the County Board delegates and County Board executive, we would wish our views regarding the Clare senior hurling team be communicated to the relevant decision-makers."
Clubs were understandably confused as to how they were to deal with a situation where the players wanted the management replaced without publicly expressing their reasons.
O'Neill had been working behind the scenes to ascertain the precise reasons for the players' unrest, but events overtook him when the players opted for the 'no confidence' route.
McNamara's address to the delegates, given in private, is understood to have outlined specific instances of indiscipline and various other disruptions which arose last year. However, it wasn't as damning as expected following his promise that it "wouldn't be pretty" at the previous meeting.
It remains to be seen how the players react to the public backing McNamara received and to his decision not to capitulate in the face of their vote.
Would it be seen as climb down if the players rescinded that decision? And once players have voted 'no confidence' in the management, how can there ever be mutual trust?
Unlike the Cork players who took strike action last year, this Clare squad is not in a strong position. Cork enjoyed great success since 1999 and while they had fallen some way behind Kilkenny, they were still regarded as top All-Ireland contenders. Clare are not.
Also, several of those who are believed to be influential in the stand against McNamara played poorly this year.
If a deal is worked out and McNamara continues next year what happens if, as seems certain, he makes dramatic changes to the panel?
After all, there's lots of talent coming through from U-21 level, so a new model will be built, irrespective of who is charge.
If it's McNamara, will those omitted claim they were being victimised for opposing him?
Yet, he can't allow his decisions to be influenced by fears of allegations of a personal agenda against certain players. How could he run a squad against that background?
Irrespective of what happens in the coming days and weeks, Clare hurling has suffered badly. A year in which they won only one game at senior level was always going to lead to negative fall-out but uplifting performances by the U-21s, which led to a first All-Ireland title win, should have been the catalyst for a positive outlook for 2010.
Instead, Clare finds itself in a dangerous situation. The panel have voted heavily against the management team, but the Board are standing firm on the basis that they reappointed him for another year and that dumping all the blame for a poor 2009 at his door is as illogical as it's unfair. Also, there's a feeling at Board level that the 26-1 vote may have come through persuasion by influential players and the real level of opposition to McNamara is much less.
Civil War has been averted so far, but it may not be far away. Tuesday night's meeting bought some time, but the core problems still exists.