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Davy basks in glow of victory

DAVY Fitzgerald’s tactics haven’t always been well received, but on Saturday evening he was vindicated and when he met the media under the Hogan Stand he said he wouldn’t be settling scores.

David Fitzgerald, Clare manager on the sideline during the All-Ireland senior hurling final replay against Cork at Croke Park. Photograph by John Kelly.
David Fitzgerald, Clare manager on the sideline during the All-Ireland senior hurling final replay against Cork at Croke Park. Photograph by John Kelly.

“There’s been a tough few years from my point of view, there’s been a lot of stick and different things. God, does this feel good. Am I going to say anything about anyone who was cutting the back off me or saying stuff, nah, I don’t think I need to. I’m just so happy for the lads, so happy for them guys. This is all down to them, they’re a fantastic, fantastic bunch.”

The decision to bring in Shane O’Donnell worked in a way that no one could have foreseen, with the teenager rattling the net three times within 20 minutes.

Fitzgerald said they had kept the pressure off O’Donnell by letting him think the team that was named in the middle of last week would be the one to start. “I only told him at ten to three so he didn’t have much time to worry about it. I rang him over the last few days and told him he’d probably come on at some stage, but we decided to keep him from him. Probably every one else in the county knew it!”

The Sixmilebridge man paid tribute to the maturity shown by O’Donnell, not just last Saturday, but since the start of the campaign. “Conor (McGrath) and Darach (Honan) were missing for the league, because they were injured, so Shane O’Donnell carried us on his own, at 19 years of age. He was only thrown into the panel this year, I saw him at minor last year, he wasn’t on the under 21s last year. The best thing about him is that he’s a really nice young fella, he’s not cocky or anything like that, he’s such a good young fella.”

He also paid tribute to Darach Honan, who he said hasn’t been operating at 100% throughout the championship. “Let me make this clear Darach Honan has been carrying an injury for three months that nobody has known about. He has a 16cm tear in his quad muscle for three months, he has only been training once a week for three months, how he has done what he has done is incredible. We decided he wasn’t getting enough training done and we’d be doing well to get 15 or 20 minutes out of him and what a display he gave when he came on, he got the goal that clinched it for us at the end and I’m very proud of him.”

The three-week break presented a big challenge for the two management teams who had to find ways of keeping their charges fresh while not letting intensity dip.

He said that Clare had short sharp sessions, as he felt they couldn’t run the risk of leaving players fatigued after a long year. “The longest session we had in three weeks was one hour and seven minutes. The rest of our sessions were probably 30 to 40 minutes. We took a chance on freshness, we took a big gamble over the last few weeks. If you think about it, we had to be at championship pace for the league because we just wanted to survived, and we were flat out since February, that’s being honest with you. We were just trying to maintain it all summer, we wouldn’t have trained as hard during the summer as we did earlier in the year, we were just trying to keep the freshness as much as we possibly could.”

They had been flying coming up to the replay, he added. “The form Clare showed in training since the replay was spectacular, he added. “We played a match last Friday night, the As versus Bs and I never saw anything like it. In 21 minutes we had eight goals and nine points scored and we had to stop it, that’s fact. We were thinking, it’s a week too early, we’re going too well. We were absolutely flying it.”

With so much underage success over the last five years there has been an expectation that senior honours would arrive eventually, but few thought Liam McCarthy would be coming to Clare in 2013.
Fitzgerald said that while Clare had exceeded his expectations, he was aware of the potential of his young charges. “In my heart of hearts I knew anything was possible with them, I’ll be honest. I believe in them so much it’s incredible. They’re a bunch of young fellas and my job is to take as much heat and as much pressure off them as I possibly can.”

He said that since he took over there has been healthy debate among the Clare backroom team. “There’s so much more pressure as a manager, I don’t want to let the boys down, they work so hard and you have to try and make sure that you get everything right and that you have the right people with you. I want to say this on record, the people that I have with me are fantastic. I sometimes get the credit, but I have two unbelievable selectors. They challenge me and we fight like cats and dogs. Paul Kinnerk is as good as another selector, myself and Paul coach the team and he’s a great, great guy.”

Fitzgerald said he had known it wouldn’t be popular when Clare began playing a short game, but he felt it was worth persisting. “When I said it to Paul about playing the short game a year and eight months ago, Paul straight away said ‘that’s it in one’. Myself and him said, with the backing of Louis and Mike, that we’ll take a lot of flak, but let’s take it and do it. We believed it would suit the boys the way we went about it and we’re delighted the way it worked out today.”

He said it was his idea to put nearly all the team on the goal line for Anthony Nash’s 21s. “We all know the rule has to be looked at (allowing him to throw the ball so far ahead of him before striking it), it isn’t a right rule and it needs to be looked at. What came into my head directly after the last game, and the boys thought I was nuts, was to cover as much space as you possibly can in the goals, and give him as little to shoot at as is possible. He’ll be scoring nine out of ten anyway if he connects, but it might hit one of us or whatever, that was the thinking behind that.

“In fairness to Anthony Nash, and leave the 21s out of it, he’s a really, really fine keeper, a really good keeper and he’s a big driving force behind Cork.”

He said that Clare have the potential to win more titles and that he was delighted with how easily the group have made the jump from under 21 to senior success. “This crowd can do whatever they want. I was worried about transition, we had good under 21 teams in the past and we didn’t win championship games for years afterwards.
“After 2009 we didn’t win anything for a while and if you look at Limerick and Galway they’ve had serious teams. It’s how you mind yourself, how you take care of yourself and I think that’s the big thing about the lads, they know what I expect as a manager and what the conditions are to play for Clare. However long more I’ll be there, as long as I’m there, those conditions will be there. When we go out we go out to win but today is about celebration.

“In fairness I’ve broken their back all year, I haven’t allowed them much and they’ll be allowed do a few days of it now and enjoy it!”

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