CLARE hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald and Clare Champion journalist, Peter O’Connell, have both given their version of events regarding an incident at Cusack Park on Saturday evening, following the Banner’s draw with Wexford.
As a result of the incident, Fitzgerald was restrained by members of his backroom team, while O’Connell was ejected from the tunnel area by Clare County Board secretary, Pat Fitzgerald [Davy’s father] and backroom squad member and referee, Seanie McMahon.
They have claimed they ejected O’Connell from the enclosed area of the stadium due to safety concerns. However, O’Connell has firmly denied that such a move was required or that he had behaved in an aggressive or abusive manner.
The incident occurred in the enclosed area behind the dressing rooms and close to the mouth of the tunnel, about 45 minutes after the match had ended.
Emotions were still running high after one of the most dramatic games of the championship to date when Fitzgerald directed a stream of verbal abuse at O’Connell.
Fitzgerald attempted to make his way towards O’Connell but was restrained by members of the Clare backroom team. O’Connell moved in the direction of the Clare manager and was then escorted out to the public part of the stadium.
Some people who witnessed the incident contacted The Clare Champion this week and said they were appalled by Davy Fitzgerald’s behaviour, claiming he had been very abusive and aggressive. A Wexford man who got in touch said he had been stunned by the conduct of the Sixmilebridge man.
However another individual, who was in the area on Saturday evening, claimed that O’Connell had gone after Fitzgerald following the manager’s comments. “Davy said to Peter about writing s**t and whatnot and being a s**t-stirrer and I could see Peter getting fuming. Peter went for him and ran from the right-hand side of the gate up to go for him. He went for him but he was stopped before he got there.”
O’Connell strongly denies that he behaved improperly. “I was in no way physically or verbally aggressive.”
“At no stage did I use profane or threatening language, nor did I attempt to get physical, even when I was being forcibly escorted around the corner and into the public area of Cusack Park,” he continued.
O’Connell said the incident took place after he had completed some post-match interviews and that he was waiting to meet a colleague.
“I came down to the tunnel area to look for Seamus Hayes to make sure we hadn’t interviewed the same people after the match. I was talking to someone who I asked had he seen Seamus. Then, in the distance, I heard this roaring and shouting and I didn’t realise initially it was being directed at me. I looked up and I saw Davy Fitzgerald, who was being held back by someone, I don’t know who it was. He was shouting extremely loudly and I suppose aggressively. Some of the language he used you couldn’t really print but one of the claims he made was that I was trying to destroy Clare hurling and succeeding.
“Initially, I was just stunned and I didn’t say anything for five or six seconds. Eventually I did say to Davy that I felt he was wrong in what he was saying but he continued with his delivery. At this stage, a second person had joined the first person in pulling him back. He continued in what he was saying. I decided eventually that I was going to challenge him over his comments.
“I strode, I didn’t run but I strode down to where he was, and he was about 15 yards away at this stage, but I was gone only a couple of yards and this person wearing a purple jumper appeared from nowhere. It was Pat Fitzgerald.
“Pat Fitzgerald, how would I put this, he encouraged me to go back around the corner and out the main gate. He was assisted in this by Seanie McMahon. However, I feel it’s fair to point out he (McMahon) was by no means overly aggressive in this incident. That’s basically what happened.”
He said that Davy Fitzgerald had referred to him as a “f**king c**t” and a “f**king b*****ks” loudly. There were a number of children at close quarters and it is understood some upset was caused.
Regarding his removal from the area, O’Connell added, “Pat Fitz put his two hands on me and forcibly pushed me around the corner. If the incident with Davy had just happened and that was it, I don’t think it would have come to light at all. Davy was just verbally abusive but he was held back. It was just verbal abuse from Davy.
“I was verbally abused by Pat as well, he was, how would I put it, using language that was actively encouraging me to leave Cusack Park immediately.”
He acknowledged that both Pat and Davy Fitzgerald have made no secret of their anger at some of his coverage of Clare GAA. O’Connell has been a critic of aspects of David Fitzgerald’s management, notably after the Munster championship defeats to Cork both this year and last year.
In an exclusive statement to The Clare Champion on Tuesday, Davy Fitzgerald said that he had wanted to raise issues with O’Connell, who apart from his job in the Champion has been involved with several Clare U-21 football sides.
“I wish to clarify my position in respect of an incident which took place in the tunnel at Cusack Park on Saturday last.
“Despite what Mr O’Connell may contend, this is not about just one article, as he has publicly stated. It is about three years of continuous criticism of myself and my management team. I accept that every management is open to criticism but, in the interests of natural justice, surely his opinion pieces have to be balanced and fair.
“Based on our achievements as a management team, I feel it is fair to state that our record should speak for itself. But we feel Mr O’Connell appears to have an agenda – why are we subjected to such minute scrutiny when he doesn’t apply the same criteria to the minor, senior, intermediate and his own U-21 management set-ups in the other code? It is fair to point out from the above comments that his criticism is not balanced, considering our results.
“I have contacted his editor on numerous occasions with a view to creating more equitable and fair-minded content in his articles. On seeing him last Saturday, I decided I was going to address the issues face to face. In my opinion, he did not handle my comments to him in a very good manner, which can be seen by his actions afterwards.”
While O’Connell claimed that Pat Fitzgerald had been aggressive, the county board secretary denied the claim and said he had been reacting to what he felt was a potentially dangerous situation.“I saw Peter O’Connell and he had a look of vengeance and his teeth were clenched. He was tearing down the tunnel where there were women and children. There was an issue of health and safety. I restrained him and removed him outside the gate and asked him not to come back.”
Seanie McMahon also claimed that he had moved to defuse a potential incident. “The reason I stopped Peter was that I didn’t want anything to develop and there were children and parents there. He was approaching (Davy Fitzgerald) at a very fast pace and that is why I got concerned.” He said he used his knowledge of volatile situations gained from refereeing and dealing with health and safety matters in the workplace, to defuse the incident.
Newstalk’s David McIntyre was in Ennis on Saturday and he said he had just seen the end of the incident.“I was going up the stairs to get back to the press box and it happened at the tunnel below. I just heard all this roaring and effing and blinding and there was a bit of a scramble, with rubberneckers and I suppose I was one of those. I just looked down and Davy was being dragged into the dressing room and Peter sort of being dragged in the opposite direction, that was about it really. I didn’t see the start of it. I probably got there two seconds too late in terms of seeing what happened. I got there just as the dressing room was being bolted and Davy dragged inside.”
By Owen Ryan