Wednesday 24 January 2018

'It would have been a travesty had we lost' – Davy Fitz

Clare boss praises never-say-die attitude but fears U-21 final will hurt replay chances

Clare's Fergal Lynch battles for the ball alongside Cork duo Tom Kenny and Stephen McDonnell
Clare's Fergal Lynch battles for the ball alongside Cork duo Tom Kenny and Stephen McDonnell
Clare's Nicky O'Connell takes on Conor Lehane
Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald watches his players before the start of yesterday's All-Ireland SHC final
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

It was just about the last thing you would have expected out of his mouth at that particular time.

But after being put through the emotional spinner of watching his young Clare team shoot to new heights, lead by five points once and four points on five other occasions, then come within a whisker of having it all taken away from them, Davy Fitzgerald found it hard to readjust the settings for a replay in three weeks' time.

The character, steel and composure they showed in the circumstances were more than enough for him.

"Whether they win, lose or draw the next day, I don't give a damn. And that's being honest," he said.

"I think we were the better team today. It would have been a travesty if we lost it. I think you saw that but are we happy to get the draw in the end, being a point down a minute and a bit into injury-time.

"Listen, it just showed what character, it showed what steel is about and I am so proud of my guys. Anyone watching outside there saw an example of boys giving their heart."

With an All-Ireland U-21 final slated for next Saturday evening, some of these young men will play three All-Ireland finals in under three weeks and the mental strain of that is something he feared.

"No matter what happens I'm so proud of them. They've been going out week after week, playing U-21 and senior, pushing it to the limit. I couldn't say enough about them.

"Will they get up to that height the next day? It will be extremely hard, to be honest with you, because the U-21s will knock a lot out of them next week and then you've got to bring them back up again. There are only so many matches.

"In saying that, it wouldn't surprise me. These guys don't know when to quit. But it will be a big ask. If you ask me straight now, Cork probably have the initiative going into it.

"Cork are going to be laughing at the fact we are still in the U-21 and we have to go again.

Pushed

"But, you know, things have been pushed against us all year, as they were out there today, and we are still there. We are not gone yet."

There was an itch on Davy that he was desperate to scratch but diplomacy kept tugging him back. In the end diplomacy won but Davy subtly got his point across all the same.

"There was a lot of tough things going against them. I won't say unfair. I could. But a lot of tough things went against them and they still came back for more."

The absence of a red card for Shane O'Neill for his strike to Darach Honan's head?

"I dunno, I didn't see it," he replied.

"Jesus, they really took on that game. If you look at the first half – should we really have been up more than two?

"There is only one fella to ask that and I won't mention his name. We should've been up more than two. Without a shadow of a doubt.

"They played their hearts out. And then we got the sucker punches in the second half but they kept coming back for more."

Did the 30 seconds of 'extra' added time balance the books with other decisions he may have felt went against him?

"No. No. The only answer to that question is no and leave it at that," he said. "I'm not going into that. It was a good hurling game. Anyone with a pair of eyes out there would know what the story is.

"I'm not going into it. Listen, Cork are a good team, fair play to them, they are a good hurling team."

In the end Clare's saviour was a young man not noted for his accuracy. Domhnall O'Donovan took friendly fire after the Laois game earlier this year when he was the only one of the 14 outfield starters not to score. But he had the last laugh yesterday evening.

"We had some laugh when we went in," said Fitzgerald. "I would say every one of the boys are laughing because they know what he's like in training. We'd be telling him to just hit it into the square! But I'm delighted for the young man."

O'Donovan admitted that he had discharged himself from defensive duties once Clare fell a point behind going into injury-time. So he ventured upfield to lend a hand to a desperate chase.

Four years earlier his brother Cormac, also a defender, had scored Clare's winner in their dramatic All-Ireland U-21 win over Kilkenny. Now it was his moment of rare glory.

"When Pat Kelly had the ball from the puck-out, I said: 'I'm not looking for the ball but I'll make myself available because my job as a defender is over.'

"I mean, if Cork score again it wouldn't make a difference, I thought, 'I'll make myself available and if he thinks I'm the right person to give the ball to he can, but somehow it went to Pat O'Connor and Nicky O'Connell, and then Nicky popped it out to me.

"I don't know, it was a bit of hit and hope. I hit it falling over. I didn't see the ball too much as it went over. I just heard the crowd so thankfully I knew then that it was saved.

"I had a bit of a look so I wouldn't be closing my eyes and shooting. I had a bit of a look. Growing up my left side was always my best side even though I'm a right-handed hurler. The lads said it went so high in the sky that they didn't know where it was going."

The last word went to Banner boss Fitzgerald: "You think about it – three goals there in the second half and we still didn't get beaten and we score none."

And the replay. He genuinely wasn't at that moment able to look that far ahead.

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