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Hill’s hat could hold the key

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THE Clare GAA County Board; every journalist’s dream machine. The stories just keep cascading from their midst, most of them threatening appendicitis, resulting from the side-splitting laughter they spread so effortlessly. Take Johnny Hill; Lissycasey’s answer to Russell Brand.
Displaying a comedic abrasiveness that even the My Booky Wook author would strain to equal, Hill, who is vice chairman of the Clare County Board, told a stunned meeting on Tuesday night that he and his committee had considered doling out ten €25,000 club grants by a lucky dip draw from a hat.
Croke Park is to make €250,000 available to Clare from the dividend earned as a result of soccer and rugby being played at GAA headquarters. Thirty Clare clubs have applied to be selected as one of the 10 grant beneficiaries. But such is the indecisiveness of the committee in charge of selecting the 10 clubs, they are thinking about utilising the ‘hat’ option. This is despite the fact that most of the 30 clubs have completed work totalling thousands of euro and have filled in all of the necessary paperwork.
Ultimately, the grant allocation might depend of luck rather than merit, although board chairman Michael O’Neill attempted to throw a lifebuoy in his deputy’s direction, as incredulity was supplanted by yelps of laughter from deep within the startled group of delegates. All of this was revealed long before Mike McNamara or the Clare senior hurlers grippingly short letter were mentioned or read. The main event had yet to take centre stage.
As succinct as a Seamus Heaney verse, if not quite as descriptive, the hurlers’ letter was read aloud by county board secretary Pat Fitzgerald. Delegates and eager press men burrowed in for a long night. The latter needn’t have got so comfortable because they were soon jettisoned. Some eventually scuttled speedily towards the exit door, while a handful traded vehement words with Michael O’Neill before a compromise was reached. The press would go as long as Mike McNamara spoke to them afterwards. The chairman said he would and he did.
Eventually, the room in the West County emptied of the fourth estate, allowing McNamara, Alan Cunningham and Ollie Baker to enter via the back door.
For the hour and fifteen minutes that followed, the media pack, both local and national, were kept at bay by a security man. Clare GAA can’t afford to buy a set of jerseys for U-15 or U-16 county football teams but they see no irony in having a security man stationed at the door of their monthly meeting.
The self confessed “mushrooms” (delegates used the term borrowed from Ger Loughnane) supported the beleaguered manager to the hilt.  If the Scariff man had held off the Normans on his own in 1169, the Clare County Board delegates couldn’t have been more supportive.
Their backing for the manager underlines the disconnection between the county’s senior hurlers and the GAA establishment in Clare. Most of the divide in thinking can be attributed to generation issues. The majority of the county’s best hurlers are in their 20s; most delegates have 40 years plus on them. One simply doesn’t get the other. While the press were barred from the moment Mike McNamara entered the room, as far as can be ascertained, nobody mentioned the elephant in the room to the manager. Clare didn’t win a single game in 2009. That statistic has been shelved, if not completely forgotten. If the county board and the club delegates were as energetic in examining why Clare hurled so poorly in 2009 instead of blindly backing a manager not wanted by his players, they would serve Clare GAA significantly better.
Instead the anti-player spin suggests Tony Griffin, Gerry Quinn and Niall Gilligan are leading the player rebellion virtually on their own. What an insult to the 23 other players who signed the letter of no confidence. The implication is that they don’t have minds of their own. Will the players stick to their convictions and tell the county board and the manager, face to face, that they stand by their letter? Or will they be appeased by soft talk, divided and conquered?
It is worth noting again that, thus far, Mike McNamara has contributed more to Clare hurling since the late 1980s than any of the players who are now trying to ditch him. Yet on Tuesday night, he clearly inferred that if this row cannot be resolved amicably within 10 days, he will go.
Based on results alone it seems crystal clear that the manager’s time is up, although the county board will face a tricky task in identifying a suitable replacement. Who will come in? John Allen, Donal O’Grady, Ger O’Loughlin or Jamesie O’Connor perhaps? Is there a man in this county who would take on the post under present circumstances?
Or will the county board borrow Johnny Hill’s hat and elicit the name of the next Clare senior hurling manager from it?

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