Tuesday 12 December 2017

Off the Ball: Davy skating on thin ice with referee criticism

Banner boss' efforts to create Loughnanian siege mentality may end up costing Clare

Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald gestures on the sidelines
Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald gestures on the sidelines

The contrast on the sidelines between the managers during Sunday's All-Ireland final was striking. On one side was stoic Jimmy Barry- Murphy, his face unreadable, a man who has already passed into myth. Then there was Davy Fitzgerald, who was his usual animated self.

After the match, Davy Fitz gave quite an insightful interview to Newstalk's Oisin Langan. He spoke of his pride in his young team, his concern about their ability to lift themselves for another epic performance, especially with an U-21 final to attend to this Saturday, and vaguely, but repeatedly, referenced a grievance with referee Brian Gavin over a handful of decisions that went against Clare.

"They got frees very easily inside the '14' or the '21'. We couldn't get a free to save our lives inside there – 100pc I've got a feeling about something, but I'm not going to go into it," he said cryptically.

Throughout the summer, Davy Fitz has tried to construct a narrative that Clare have been written off time and again by the media and even by sections of their own support. His sideline antics are questioned in some corners, ridiculed in others. Yet in under two seasons, he has overseen a complete overhaul of this Clare team. He has instilled in them the fearlessness to run amok on All-Ireland Sunday.

And, perhaps in a nod to the likes of Jose Mourinho, he has allowed himself to be the focal point of most discussion around the team, thus shielding them from pressure that has daunted many men in their boots.

But, to some, there is a downside to Davy's approach to management.

Daithi Regan was in studio on Monday night and was unequivocal when discussing Davy Fitz's vociferousness in expressing his opinions to referees.

"He will cost this Clare team an All-Ireland final yet," said Daithi. Though magnanimous in his praise for Clare, Daithi believes that Davy's attitudes towards referees sets a dangerous example and works against their own best interests. "They've been brilliant, so don't impede them, don't bring the ire," he said.

The evolution of this Clare team has been a joy to watch this summer. Players like Connor Ryan and Podge Collins turned from boys into men in front of everyone's eyes on Sunday.

As their shepherd, Davy Fitz deserves endless credit for allowing a brand of hurling to flourish into moments of near genius in the final.

But could his efforts to create a Loughnanian siege mentality ultimately backfire and end up costing Clare?

Only history will judge whether there is method to his madness, though it is perhaps worth noting how little Cork said following Sunday's match. We saw a photo of the team having a swim on Monday morning in the Irish sea, a gesture of healing and togetherness.

We await September 28 with bated breath.

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