Tuesday 20 March 2018

Clare hurling fans should be careful what they wish for

'Management, though, is a difficult, messy business. Davy’s mistakes are all made in public.' Picture: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
'Management, though, is a difficult, messy business. Davy’s mistakes are all made in public.' Picture: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Ger Gilroy

Some of the Clare fans who listen to the show weren't happy this past week. They thought that Davy Fitzgerald needed to have his feet held to the flames a bit more about the last two seasons of underachievement by a team laden with talent.

Maybe they have a point, but maybe they needed to take into consideration what's happened with Clare hurling over the past three years.

Hurling is in a weird state of suspended animation given the dominance of Kilkenny. There's an unreality to the games, like we're in the middle of some algorithm playing out the seasons to see how long it takes to reach perfection. Or annihilation.

The 2016 model of Kilkenny appeared to have some dirty petrol in the tank during the league, particularly as Clare dismantled them in the semi-final with the perfect combination of a physical and tactical challenge. Then the dust settled and the list of missing Kilkenny players that day sunk in.

They were shorn a third of the team, including all their most important players apart from TJ Reid. The last decade and a half has seen Kilkenny hone a winning tradition that allows them to mutate mid-season, occasionally even mid-game, that practically guarantees victory against all but the best teams.

If you beat them physically they'll out-think you, if you're out-thinking them they'll outwork you. You need to be perfect to beat them.

It's against this backdrop that we should really be analysing Clare's achievements, or lack of them. They and Tipperary have won All-Irelands in the Kilkenny era. It's one apiece. Since 2005. All the rest are Kilkenny. It's perfectly legitimate for supporters to question the decisions of their management teams. That's half the enjoyment of supporting a team who are contenders.

Management, though, is a difficult, messy business. Davy's mistakes are all made in public. The hard line with the footballers and the "socialisers" who were injured was the tree that didn't bend breaking. That was last season. The season before was an insanely young team defending a break-out title. Not a sin for that to be a lost year.

This year the footballers are back and there's no stories coming out of an unhappy camp, no players banished for seemingly innocuous outings. The local media are back on side and there's no hint of organisations being banned for critical words.

It's a very Irish criticism to say he should have known all this first time around and he gets no credit for learning it now.

Defeat to Waterford emboldened the naysayers. Defeat against Limerick will lead to revolt, but hasten slowly Clare fans. All-Ireland-winning managers don't grow on trees and this management have shown a willingness to learn from defeat and criticism.

That's rare in Irish sport and shouldn't be discarded easily.

Irish Independent

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