HURLING: The new Davy Fitzgerald

Things have been different in 2016 — for Clare in terms of results as their 12-match unbeaten run through the Munster and National leagues prove, but things have also been different for manager Davy Fitzgerald writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.

DAVY Fitzgerald’s world view.

Certainly world view is not something that would readily come to mind when thinking about the Sixmilebridge and Clare firebrand who wears his heart very much on his hurling sleeve.

People like Mickey Harte might be a bit different — for instance this Saturday past the Tyrone manager was seen leafing through the pages of an eclectic range of tomes in Ennis Bookshop’s vast catalogue; then he was across the road studying the Croke Cup — the oldest extant inter-county GAA trophy — in the window display of Tony Honan’s Antiques before shooting the breeze about football and plenty other things with the antiques man on the sidewalk for ten or 15 minutes.

Harte has had audiences with the Dalai Lama and much more, seems to have a Zen-like calm about him, on and off the field, and though football and all that goes on between the white lines is his life and is everything, it’s still has its place in perspective, with Harte who has endured so much family and football trauma being able to attest to this more than anyone else.

“Yes, this game against Waterford is hugely important,” he says, “but it’s a hurling match. If we weigh this up. Sport is important, but maybe my own views have changed in the last few years. There is a lot more things going on outside in the world and if you take people that you know with health problems.

For Harte there are things beyond football — there are things beyond the GAA, as there is for others  — something an article that appeared on twitter the other day brought home.

It was an article titled ‘Life Behind the Mike’, written by Michéal Ó Muircheartaigh way back in 1967. My uncle wrote about doing a commentary in the “early days of orbiting satellites”, with the Sunday morning papers on match-day being given over to a “missing Russian object”.

“Later that day I was giving a commentary in Irish from Croke Park and thought I was really ‘thrashing’ until I overheard the sound man informing someone on the telephone that they had just re-established contact with that lost satellite. The few seconds silence followed while I composed myself, possibly passed unnoticed by listeners,” he added.

Those few seconds silence were Michéal thinking about the world beyond that hurling or football match; like Mickey Harte thinks about the world beyond the football match.

“Yes it’s hugely important,” said Harte, “but it’s a football match”.

And, it’s the way Davy Fitzgerald seems to be thinking now.

“Yes, this game against Waterford is hugely important,” he says, “but it’s a hurling match. If we weigh this up. Sport is important, but maybe my own views have changed in the last few years. There is a lot more things going on outside in the world and if you take people that you know with health problems.

“We will go out there on the hurling field and we will give it everything — we will do whatever it takes, but we’ve got to try and leave it at that. Last year it was ‘we were All-Ireland champions in ’13, we’ve got to get back up there, we’ve got to do this’. We were maybe putting too much pressure on ourselves.

“To cope with success is sometimes dangerous. I feel, I don’t know if the lads are back to their best, but we’re getting there. I can see the enthusiasm, but we are also saying ‘don’t put as much pressure on yourselves’.

“We try and have the laugh as much as we can so you mix it up with being serious. We are trying to adopt that attitude to where we can go out and just play — play and make the mistakes, but do our best, leave it all out there and see what happens. You can’t ask or expect anything more,” he adds.

It’s Davy Fitzgerald’s new world view.

CHANGE, says Fitzgerald, came in the off season when he took a step back and surveyed what had gone before — some might say the wreckage of the previous couple of seasons — and had an epiphany of sorts. Changed.

“I came to a new way of thinking,” he says. “There was a lot of stick going and if I’d stay listening to that I’d drive myself crazy. What I did was two or three things. I talked to a few people that mattered to me.

“We discussed exactly where we thought we were. Also for myself I said ‘Davy you’ve got to believe in what you’re doing and you’ve got to just ignore a lot of stuff. Stay with the boys who have  believed in you and stuck by you and work as hard as you possible can and surround yourself with the best people that you can’.

“In any good set-up — I’m sure if you ask Mourinho, if you ask Pep Guardiola, if you ask any big organisation, the key to success in my opinion is the team you have around you.

“Maybe me seven or ten years ago I’d say, ‘sure I can do everything’. That ain’t possible. I just decided to get the best team you possibly can, number two from stuff that would be going on outside you — I can’t stop people talking in forums, I can’t stop what ye’re writing yourselves.

“Be true to yourself, be the best you can be. That’s all I can do. I can’t do any more. If you see the body language in myself this year I’m a lot more content in myself. I’m a lot more at ease in myself — naturally I want to win and get hot every now and then, but I think you see by my body language that I’m different.”

Clare are different too. Winning the close games, when they were losing them in 2014 and ’15, so much so that it’s more of those close games that Fitzgerald is now crying out for — the league quarter-final against Tipperary, the two finals against Waterford.

“A term I’m using this year is ‘we want a battle’,” says Fitzgerald. “We look forward to a battle. Let’s hope that the last ten minutes is manic and crazy, that means we’re in the game and whichever team is the smartest and takes the opportunity is going to win it. We’re trying to build the mindset that we want this battle. It’s worked out well for us so far.

“The statistics were written down for the last three years — if you look at ’13, 14 and ’15, if you watch the turnovers, the hooks, the blocks, you’ll see the difference. It’s down there. It might only be five or ten per cent of a difference, but if you’re not making them it shows that you’re not working as hard as you should be.

“If that work ethic isn’t up to the max of what you should be doing — we can count all the games we lost by a point or two points, it’s inches. We’re winning them this year and I believe in them small little things, the boys finding that grá and determination, it’s there. It’s back and that’s why we want this battle.”

As he speaks Fitzgerald is already braced — the third instalment of the Clare v Waterford story in 2016, a point separating them after 160 minutes of hurling, as according to the Clare manager both sides rubbished “this myth that we’d be going out and trying to shadow box for the championship.

“We both wanted to win the league. You could see that. But then you knew what was coming. The 5th of June, we both knew it was coming but we held nothing back and just went for it. You know… you know that it’s just going to be fierce. We’re prepared for that.

“I think there’s going to be tension in the stands, I’ll be honest about it. I think they’re very uptight about certain things, I think our lads don’t want to lose. Waterford don’t want to lose.

“It’s going to be an electric atmosphere and hopefully none of it will get out of hand on the field or in the stands and I would appeal for that. I would hope that lads would just go out and hurl each other out there and see how we get on. It’s very important, there’s a lot at stake and there’s very little between the two teams. It’s going to be a battle.”

Tactically, and in the hurling too, which in its own way makes it even more fascinating.

“People say we play a similar style,” says Fitzgerald. “We actually don’t, but the way they play it’s very hard to impose the style we play, because they play a cordon across the middle of the field. It’s like they’re nearly holding hands. They could nearly go across the middle of the field with all the bodies they have out there.

“If we leave them loose by one or two bodies they’ll overlap and shoot from distance. We can’t afford to let that happen. It’s not ideally how we like to play, trust me. Do we play with a sweeper? We do, but we’re still able to attack up the field in numbers. I mean we scored 4-23 against Kilkenny. We can do it. We can score when we have to.

“Is it (tactics) strangling it? I ask anyone who watched the Kilkenny game. Against Limerick, we scored 1-18, 1-19 and missed chances. Is that strangling it? It’s not. We are able to score.

“Waterford play a brand that suits them. They have to play a brand that gets them over the line. Do they want to play that suits other teams? Of course they don’t. If you can get scores from 70/80 yards out with a man breathing down your neck, that’s fucking unreal. If people say it’s strangling it, that’s rubbish. What do they want? Goals that are scored loosely. I don’t know.

“We normally create between 34 and 40 scoring chances a game, against Waterford you won’t get that because the whole game is in that middle third. Some people have a terminology that it’s dog on dog, but this is wolf on wolf, this is going to be fierce. The middle third is where the game is going to be won.”

You know he cant’ wait:

“We know what’s ahead. I’d love to able to tell you we’re going to win. We just know the battle that’s ahead; we know the enthusiasm and intensity that’s in Clare. They (Waterford) say they’re hurt and we’ve taken that into account.

“We’re ready. I’d love to be able to tell you we’re going to go out and wallop them. You don’t know what’s going to happen when you cross the white line. Have we prepared as well as we can? They have done it all. It’s the thing from the shoulders up that’s the most important thing. That has to be 100 per cent in gear when you go out there.

“If that’s right we’ll match any of them. We’ll give it a go. It’s where you fight like never before. At the same time championship hurling is like a cauldron out there and it’s important not to get caught up in emotions where you could draw a dirty belt or get involved. We do not want that, we have to be smart out there as well. We have got to be intense; we’ve got to be smart; we’ve got to be careful.”

Then, come what may — win, lose or draw — they’ll go home, gather themselves again for the next day.

There is always the next day.

It’s Davy Fitzgerald’s new world view.



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