The rather excellent GAA website AnFearRua.com ran a poll the other day trying to gauge the popularity of the Clare hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald. At the time of writing, 32 respondents proclaimed themselves to be fans of his, 11 didn’t, and four sat on the fence. An unscientific reading perhaps but even allowing for the fact a lot of Clare people frequent the site, the numbers demonstrate that the majority of those in and around the sport of hurling recognize that Fitzgerald contributes more than he detracts from the game. A fair point.
In a time when safety concerns mean that so many of hurling’s finest exponents are hidden away beneath helmets so they remain largely anonymous to the world at large, Fitzgerald is just what hurling needs. Is there any other manager out there who features so regularly on YouTube and in so many entertaining ways? Never mind that half of his videos feature bad language (of a kind that is normal in every dressing-room), the amount of hypocrisy surrounding his swearing on the sidelines is more offensive than most of the stuff he comes out with.
You’d think that nobody had ever heard an F bomb dropped during a championship encounter. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I have a friend who brings his 10-year-old son to games. When they set out on the day of a big match, the father reminds the child of the golden rule which must always be observed. You must never repeat the language you hear in the stadium. Ever. Do you think Fitzgerald said anything worse than what many of the supporters are roaring once the whistle blows?
The brouhaha surrounding his unsportsmanlike yet hilarious taunting during the recent clash with Waterford was bigger than it needed to be. But everything with Fitzgerald always seems to come freighted with extra controversy. And that’s the way it should be. The GAA needs managers with the sideline decorum, class and dignity of JBM and John Allen yet, like him or loathe him, the GAA needs characters like Davy Fitz too.
It needs him the same way that English soccer needed Brian Clough, the same way Irish soccer needs Roy Keane (what does it say that a retired player turned pundit was the biggest Irish performer at Euro 2012?). He may not be the best manager out there but he is the most box office in terms of generating publicity. While that may annoy some people, there are others who find his every move and utterance to be so entertaining they add a whole new dimension to the games.
Back in 2005, Fitzgerald published a fascinating autobiography. My only criticism of it was that he gave it the rather dull title, “Passion and Pride.” There were so many other options. “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean everyone in the GAA authorities isn’t out to get me!” “A little bitterness goes a long way!” “Nobody likes me, I don’t care!” It says much that just seven years down the line, he already has enough material for a second volume.
After watching the interaction between himself and John Mullane recently, who wouldn’t want to read about Fitzgerald’s stint in charge of Waterford? Anybody with even the slightest interest in hurling would relish that because they know the author wouldn’t be holding back. The fact he wears his heart so much on his sleeve is one of the reasons why this guy is a huge boon to the sport.
Never mind RTE’s faux attempt at staking out the moral high ground on “The Sunday Game”. The suits in Donnybrook would be better served spending less time on bad language and more time trying to drag their GAA coverage into the 21st century.
“I was texting Dalo on Sunday before the draw was made,” said Fitzgerald after Clare were drawn to play Anthony Daly’s Dublin in the All-Ireland hurling qualifiers next Saturday. “I think we both had a feeling we’d be playing each other. It’s a very hard draw for us. We all know Dublin aren’t as bad as they showed and they will want to prove that they didn’t become a bad team overnight and it’s unfortunate for Clare that we’re the next team they play.”
Imagine what Sky Sports in England or ESPN in America would do with a fixture as mouthwatering as Clare versus Dublin in Cusack Park. The former goalkeeper from the greatest team the county ever produced taking on the former captain, both at crucial stages of their careers with their respective teams. A defeat for Dublin will mean Daly won’t be traveling the long road from Ennis to Parnell Park any more after next week. A defeat for Clare will mean everybody in the town will be questioning the training methods, the playing style and the sideline antics of Fitzgerald and wondering if he’s the man to lead the county forward.
Indeed, some are already questioning the training after it emerged Fitzgerald had the Clare squad climbing Carrantuohill in the dark as part of a team-building exercise. Many baulk at this kind of stuff creeping into the GAA but the reality is the perception of this carry-on depends on the results. When a side wins, the fans think these innovative approaches were progressive, when they lose they think there were wrong-headed and a waste of time. Witness the gags about Clare hurlers being able to find the top of the mountain faster than they could find the goalposts against Waterford.
There’s something else to consider too when Clare meet Dublin. Presuming he has two or three years left in charge of his own county, where will Fitzgerald go then? Limerick? Don’t think so. Kerry? Too low-profile. Galway? Still smarting from the last Clare guy they brought in. Where then? Why Dublin of course. Ambitious, willing to spend and with a high profile, it’s he perfect place for Fitzgerald. Next Saturday is much more than a game then. It’s also an audition.