Davy Fitzgerald fears replay may be one game too many
Banner boss hoping his troops don't run out of steam after 'flat out' campaigns for seniors and U-21s
Davy Fitzgerald is reminded once more of his declaration on the last day of March this year that too many prophets in his own county were talking "rubbish" about this Clare team's capacity to win an All-Ireland hurling title this year.
"Did I say that," he laughed, as many of those same Clare players prepared for their third All-Ireland final in just three weeks.
There were circumstances attached to the comments he had made, coming, as they did, in the last round of league action as Tipperary condemned them to a relegation play-off with a comprehensive 3-19 to 1-14 victory in Semple Stadium.
That day no one could see an All-Ireland in Clare and Fitzgerald was keen to pinprick any burgeoning optimism around them.
"It didn't feel great after that loss, naturally. When you get a beating like that... people had been talking us up all over the place," he reflected.
"Locally, more than anything, they were getting a bit carried away. It's just important that you try and keep the lads' feet on the ground. I think that was one of the best things that ever happened us," he said of that defeat.
"I remember Eamon O'Shea (Tipperary manager), with four or five minutes to go and them up a rake of points, roaring at Tipperary to go for goals and bury us.
"I went into the dressing-room afterwards and said: 'don't ye ever forget the lesson you got there today'.
"I think that was a good lesson, that was a help in our progression this year.
"We were flat that day. I think it was due to playing Galway, Cork and Kilkenny and going absolutely flat to the mat trying to get results in those three games."
Which brings Fitzgerald to his most pressing concern ahead of tomorrow's replay.
Stitched into their season has been a successful All-Ireland U-21 campaign, featuring 14 of their 26-man squad for the drawn senior final. Fitzgerald acknowledges reasonable doubts about their capacity to keep it going.
"Since the start of February we've been flat out because we played the league campaign at a championship pace.
"So, I'd be saying to myself: 'Will these games catch up on them?' That's the only concern, but it doesn't seem to have. They seem to be good. I think the only really flat game we had was that Tipperary league game.
"The doubts, though, would be in your head – will they be able to keep this going?
"Nothing to do with keeping them guessing. I try to look at the opposition and see what they're playing and Cork are a very good ball team, so you can read into that whatever you want. I think they're really good hurlers."
Inevitably, talk turns to the way he might lay out his team tomorrow.
Unsurprisingly, there are no changes in personnel, but the little detail about whether Pat Donnellan will drop back behind Conor Ryan this time, with Tony Kelly switching to midfield will be considered.
Asked if they had played the sweeper the last day, would it have been different, Fitzgerald replied:
"I know exactly how it would have gone, but I'm not going to go into that now – I'll tell you another day.
"All I'll say to you is, look back on a lot of games and where Cork get a lot of their scores from and it will answer that question for you. Because I have it done."
At no stage in the drawn game did he think, when Clare were five points clear, that deploying a sweeper at that stage would have been beneficial.
"They pick scores there (around midfield) at will. You look at Patrick Horgan in the first half – where did he get his score from?
"If we do that (drop back a man), they're going to pick score after score after score.
"That's only my opinion, maybe it could be different, but they're able. You look at them, they're able to shoot."
Fitzgerald doesn't believe Cork have got the credit for their performance in the drawn game on the back of the amount of goal chances they created.
"They actually created five or six goal chances. They could have ended up with five the last day and my own honest opinion is that they didn't get the credit they deserved.
"I thought Cork played pretty decent, especially in the second half. I think they had only three wides. That shows any use of the ball they had the last day, they used it pretty well.
"I know everyone is saying that Cork are going to play way better the next day – if they do, we're going to have to do some unmerciful rising of our game again."
Fitzgerald believes it's obvious Cork will once more run at them after reaping so much from that policy the last day.
"We have to be ready for them playing the next day; we have to be sure that we try not to give them five goal chances," he warned.
"What are Cork going to do the next day? They're going to get the ball and run at us every chance they can. They're going to be going for goals and '21s' (frees) and that's what we expect will be coming."