Tuesday 20 March 2018

John Mullane: Cork beware – Davy's smart enough to have final trick up his sleeve

Clare manager, Davy Fitzgerald who owns the bar where the couple met.
Clare manager, Davy Fitzgerald who owns the bar where the couple met.

John Mullane

IN the last few days, I've become fed up hearing about how Cork are going to be too cute for Davy Fitzgerald and this Clare team. It's become a little tiresome.

I played under Davy for four seasons and I'd like to think that I have some understanding of how he thinks and what makes him tick.

He's a very clever man, as Anthony Cunningham and John Allen, two astute managers in their own right, found out to their cost.

I can't stop thinking back to that Munster semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds, when everything went right for Cork. With a strong breeze at their backs in the first half, Clare created a host of goal chances but couldn't take them.

I firmly believe that Clare can open up Cork once again in tomorrow's All-Ireland final.

I just wonder if Davy is going to pull the wool over everyone's eyes by dispensing with the sweeper system. I think Clare would be best served by adopting the tactics from the Munster semi-final, with Tony Kelly at No 11.


Automatically, then, Brian Murphy will follow him and that will create space in the Clare full-forward line, and goal chances.

Over the last three weeks, Cork will have been thinking about how they're going to break down Clare's sweeper system. Jimmy Barry-Murphy won't be as naive as Cunningham and Allen were and he'll have a plan in place, but I feel Davy may change it up.

I also believe that Davy will be having a quiet word in John Conlon's ear before throw-in.

Something along the lines of, 'you know what happened the last day, and where you ended up'. Conlon suffered concussion at the Gaelic Grounds and I wouldn't be surprised if he's a match-winner tomorrow.

Conlon hasn't lit up the championship, but All-Ireland final day is when he could shine.

For all of the players involved, this is where it really starts. One thing I've noticed is that Clare have gone the Kilkenny route in terms of their preparation, having their puck-around last night and naming the team.

That's a good thing because in 2008 with Waterford, we trained on the Thursday evening and it was a long wait until Sunday.

From here on in, it's all about the game. The tickets, banquet arrangements and suits are out of the way and that's how it should be.

From lunchtime today, the butterflies will arrive because an All-Ireland final is different to any other pressure that a player will have experienced. It's pressure multiplied by 10 and each will have his own way of handling it.

I always enjoyed the craic with the lads. I think you're better off mixing with your team-mates, chatting, playing cards, trying to keep things as normal as possible.

If you're on your own, the doubts can creep in. The manager has a big role to play, keeping everyone calm.

And a player has to be selfish. He can't worry about how anyone else is preparing. It's all about getting yourself right and hoping that the team can win 10 of the 15 individual battles on the day.

We were hammered by Kilkenny in 2008 but I genuinely believed, taking to the field, that we were going to win. There were no doubts.

At half-time, the mood was completely different. A lot of us were in a daze, wondering if this was actually happening.

The second half was about restoring some pride. People had paid good money to come up and watch us and we couldn't just leave it there. I remember Kilkenny corner-back Mick Kavanagh was very gracious at full-time, almost apologetic after what they did to us.

The dressing-room afterwards was a place where no Cork or Clare player wants to be tomorrow.

The only way I can describe it is that it was like being told that somebody in your family had passed away. You take the rest of the night second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, just trying to get through it.

A few pints in the hotel helped to take the pain away but waking up a loser on Monday morning felt even worse. There were still no answers. Why did we underperform? Where did it all go wrong? It's the worst place on earth.

You get ready for the train home but you'd rather get a taxi to Dublin airport. Meanwhile, in a hotel across town, the winners are lapping it up. Believe you me, All-Ireland final Sunday is no day for losers.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport