Thursday 22 February 2018

John Mullane: Davy deserves his day in the sun

I've criticised the Clare boss in the past but he got replay tactics spot on – and starting O'Donnell was a masterstroke

Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald is held aloft by some of his players after beating Cork
Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald is held aloft by some of his players after beating Cork

John Mullane

WHAT is it about Davy Fitzgerald, Cork and floodlights? Remember 2010, when Waterford won the Munster final replay on a Saturday night?

Something similar unfolded at Croke Park on Saturday evening but this time, the prize at stake was the biggest of them all. The small fish are now the big fish.

I'm always on the lookout for stats and pieces of trivia and it was brought to my attention that when Davy won his first All-Ireland senior medal as a player in 1995, a goalkeeper (John O'Leary) also captained the Dublin senior footballers to glory in the same season.

Davy will tell you himself that when he managed ourselves in Waterford, he was trying out different systems. Some days they worked, some days they didn't.

But he kept at it and he came up with a gameplan that suits the newly crowned All-Ireland champions perfectly.

EVOLVED

Even within his own county, he was criticised as the team evolved and I was one of those to question what he was doing when Clare lost the Munster semi-final to Cork.

But he deserves his day in the sun because the man eats, sleeps and breathes hurling. I'd like to congratulate him but what really strikes me is his refusal to take all of the plaudits on offer.

He continues to mention the role of his back-room team and that suggests to me that the people behind the scenes have played a massive part in this success.

It just goes to show that to be successful, you also need that very good back-up working hand in hand with a top manager.

I couldn't make it to Croke Park for the replay. I was tied up with club duties as our De La Salle minors beat Ballygunner to reach a county final. I was left with a decision then – to watch the game in the pub or in the comfort of my own home.

The latter option won out and I was reflecting on how I pay nearly €40 per month for my Sky Sports package. Is that value for money when you witness an occasion like Croke Park on Saturday?

What an evening and what a fitting way to end a sensational summer of hurling.

Last Monday, I suggested that Shane O'Donnell might start at full-forward. And the reason why he did can be traced back to Clare's qualifier win over Wexford in Thurles. People might suggest that Clare were lucky that day – they weren't. In fact, for the first 35 minutes of that game, they produced hurling on a par with anything witnessed over the course of the two finals.

And O'Donnell at full-forward was central to the way Clare played. As the 19-year-old said himself, this was the stuff of dreams and while the goals were brilliant, his 54th-minute point was a massive score, to edge Clare ahead again after Cork had drawn level.

Overall, O'Donnell was better suited to the Clare system than Darach Honan. Not telling the young Eire Og player he was starting until just a couple of hours before the game was another masterstroke from Davy.

O'Donnell admitted himself he can suffer terribly with nerves before a game and I've seen that with many players over the years.

Some of them burn energy the night before the game and on the morning of it, simply by thinking about what lies in store. But O'Donnell played with a freedom that was so evident in his display, particularly in the first 20 minutes when Clare went hunting for goals. Isn't it strange how two teams who had struggled to raise green flags opened up?

Cork got three in the first game, same again on Saturday. When Clare needed them most, they picked off five goals. A huge part of the reason why they did so was O'Donnell, who delivered big time. It was so obvious that Clare had goals on their mind.

Instead of tapping the ball over the bar in the 13th minute, Conor McGrath passed to O'Donnell, who did the rest. And what about McGrath in the 62nd minute? What a sensational strike that was.

Cork's approach was the direct route to Patrick Cronin. Jimmy Barry-Murphy wanted his captain to make hay with those booming deliveries or engineer frees, thus allowing Anthony Nash to make his way forward to deliver his crackerjacks.

A word on that, by the way. I can't understand why a rule change is being suggested, just because Nash has perfected a skill.

If he's able to do that, why punish the Cork goalkeeper? What he does should be to his and Cork's benefit.

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