Fitzgerald wary of Waterford threat
Days before the start of the Allianz Hurling League, and Davy Fitzgerald is talking up Waterford’s prospects, their character, leadership, the irreplaceable “flair” of John Mullane – as if he were still within the walls of their own dressing room.
Fitzgerald, of course, is these days managing his native Clare, and their opening game, in Ennis this Sunday is against Waterford. Yet his affection for the team he managed for three and a half seasons, up until 2011, is sincere, and so too is his tribute to the recently retired Mullane.
“He’s a massive loss,” says Fitzgerald, “and personally I think John Mullane has more to give, 100 per cent. His character on the field is second to none. I wasn’t overly happy with his celebrations when he beat us last year, but you can’t take away the personality. I don’t think he’ll change his mind, and I’m sorry to see him gone. . . But they still have character, the Noel Connors, Liam Lawlor, “Brick” Walsh, Shane O’Sullivan, Kevin Moran, Séamus Prendergast, Shane Walsh – they would make any team. How they could become a bad team overnight. These guys are capable of lifting it again. . . They’re a very good unit, full of leaders, and will come out this Sunday all guns blazing.”
Clare will do likewise – although Fitzgerald is without five first-choice players: full back Cian Dillon and corner forward Conor McGrath (both long-term hip injuries), midfielders Nickey O’Connell (back) and Brian O’Connell (torn leg muscle), and also full forward Darach Honan, who is only getting back to full fitness.
Fitzgerald partly attributes these injuries to “wear and tear”, and the issue of player burnout is also close to his heart, particularly with Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-finals also taking place the week before the start of the league.
Made a rule
“I made a rule we train three or four nights with Clare, collectively, and if they’re playing or training with the college, or club, they miss the Clare training. We’re not going to allow players train with both, because it’s counter-productive. I don’t want players flogged. So go play Fitzgibbon, and we’ll judge players on that.”
Fitzgerald is happy Clare are heading in the right direction. “Look at the last few years. Relegated in 2009. Struggled to beat Carlow, Antrim. We had slipped pretty far down the table. We came in, last year, and went young, brought in 13 under-21s. We’ve 14 in this year. So we’ve changed the structure. We’ve got out of 1B, and won a championship game. We’re making progress. But am I stupid enough to think we’ll walk all over Waterford, like some are saying? I just want to see us giving performances”
Nor is Clare’s success at under-21 any guarantee of smooth progress: “Limerick, Galway, have done very well there too, did that guarantee them All-Irelands? I think it creates massive expectations. Sometimes it’s how you deal with success. . . We know winning underage is not good enough. It’s about taking small steps.”