Davy Fitzgerald says he was severely bullied as a child
Manager says some Clare senior hurlers were previously taking illicit drugs
Davy Fitzgerald, manager of the Clare senior hurling team. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Clare hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald has opened up about how he was severely bullied when he was a child.
The All-Ireland winning manager – who addressed hundreds of students at a mental and physical health seminar at Limerick Institute of Technology today – encouraged them to have dreams and goals and to avoid the pitfalls of alcohol and drugs.
He also revealed how some Clare hurlers were taking illicit drugs before he and his backroom team weeded out the problem when Fitzgerald became manager in 2011.
In a inspirational speech, the former Clare goalkeeper gave a remarkably frank account of how sport saved his life when he was the victim of bullies while he attended secondary school in Clare.
“At an early age I had a dream. I believe you should have dreams and you should have goals, no matter what your story is. It doesn’t matter whether it’s sport or if it’s a profession that you want. My dream from about four or five years of age was to play in goal for Clare. I didn’t care about anything else. That was my focus. That was my goal. It was one of the biggest things I’ve ever had in my life; having that goal in front of me and having that belief that I wanted to do something,” the former three-time GAA All Star told students.
“I got bullied badly when I was in secondary school. It was probably the toughest time in my life. I used to dread getting up in the mornings and going out on the bus, absolutely dread it. I used to sit on the second seat from the front nearly all the time. There was seven or eight guys who used to be laughing at me.
“They’d hit me on the back of the head. They would pull my hair. They put egg on my head. They would pull me back to the back seat – the bus driver wouldn’t know anything about it – they’d open my shirt and start painting on my body. I got my shoes thrown out the bus window. I felt absolutely so low and I tried to figure out what this was all about.
“I went home with a black eye and bruised ribs. I never told my mam or dad anything. To this day, I don’t understand bullying. I cannot understand how people are so insensitive. I cannot understand how you would single someone out and do that. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Addressing anyone involved in bullying, the manager – who last year brought Clare to All-Ireland victory after a 16-year gap – said: “It’s something I cannot tolerate. If you ever have done something like that, just look within yourself and say: ‘Listen, I’m not going there again and I’m not going to make someone feel like that again.’ None of us are perfect. Trust me, I have a lot of things that I make mistakes on. I’m not perfect but I will try to be the best person and not make you feel bad.
“I’ve often looked at smart arses that think they know it all. To me, I go through them for shortcut, if I see someone make fun of someone, because you’re not as smart as you let on, you’re not as tough as you let on.
“Did they (bullies) make me stronger? They did, without any shadow of a doubt. People often ask me why I have an attitude on the sideline. I have an attitude because I won’t let anyone walk down on top of me. 100 per cent not.”
Fitzgerald, who won two All-Ireland medals as a Clare player, said sport was the “one thing that kept me going through the bullying”.
“I’ll be honest about it, when I was feeling low. I just kept thinking, I have a dream. I used to get my hurley and go out and play hurling. I used to do something I love straight away. I would encourage anyone that comes across being made feel that low, go to that place where you know that you have something you love doing.”
He said he was proud of the Clare hurlers for effectively giving up drink in order to win an All-Ireland last year. He told the gathering they did not need alcohol and drugs to feel better about themselves or to succeed in life.
He also revealed when he became Clare manager he was aware players were drinking alcohol and taking drugs. “We brought in a code of discipline. From the mid-2000s, in Clare, my feeling was that Clare was a social team. I know some of them were even taking harder stuff than drink. I couldn’t understand this. To me I play to win, and if you are doing stuff like that, you’re wasting your time.”
He said he and the team rooted out the problem during a three-hour meeting after he became manager. “I questioned them and I said do we really need alcohol and do you need to take substances that will make you feel better. We teased it out, we spent three hours out in Bunratty teasing it out. We decided we were going to stand up and draw a line under it and say: ‘No.’ We decided we were going to come to training and enjoy ourselves and were going to communicate with each other. We want to enjoy what we do.”
However, he also told the students sport could deliver deep lows as well as massive highs. He described how he collapsed with grief when his team Waterford were thrashed by Kilkenny in the 2008 All-Ireland hurling final.
“There are 85,000 people there. I’m on the sideline. We’re getting beaten 30 points by Kilkenny, absolutely hammering us. You can’t (hide) any place. I’ll never forget coming up to the dressingroom afterwards, the boys were gone. I actually fell to my knees. My dad and my best friend Liam were there. I just fell down. I balled out crying. I was in a bad way after it. I couldn’t believe, that, one minute I was up so high and the next minute I was down (so low).”
He also revealed how he was assaulted by Waterford supporters when the team came off the back of another severe beating at the hands of Tipperary in 2011. “I remember getting hit by two or three supporters after a game. We lost 7-21 to 21 points to Tipperary. A few of the Waterford supporters hit me on the way in (to the dressingroom) and they tried to get in the dressingroom door. It was my fault the team played badly.
“In sport there will be ups and downs in a big way. While last year was unbelievable for me, I never forget what it was like to be low, and there is low points you have to deal with. ”
He told the students that exercise “sharpens the mind” and alcohol sends you “down a road of unhappiness”.
Reiterating his advice to those gathered before him to have dreams and goals and hobbies “and fun” he added: “I’ll give you an example of a dream I had, to win the long puck (competition) in Ireland. It took me nine years to win it. I used to come home every year and my dad would say to me, ‘Well, how’d you get on’, and I’d say, ‘I didn’t get there’. I remember that, after the sixth year he said, ‘Well, are you ever going to do it?’, and I said: ‘I’ll get there, I’ll get there.’
“After the ninth year when I did (win) it. Jesus...what a feeling! The message I’m trying to give to you is, it pays to be persistent. It’s like my dream with Clare last year. Everyone said for four or five years that Kilkenny would be unbeatable. In my head I kept saying, and in every interview I did, ‘their time is coming to an end – we will get there’.”