Something's got to give as born winners pit their wits
The meeting of two Clare greats from the 1990s in a managerial capacity adds a fascinating angle to tonight’s clash of Clare and Dublin, writes KEITH DUGGAN
FOR CLARE hurling people who remember them as key elements in the fieriest defence to play the game, it is going to make a strange sight: Davy Fitzgerald and Anthony Daly on the outside of the sidelines and both possessed with the idea of outwitting the other man. For years, they were bound by one common belief: us against the world.
“It will be odd for supporters. Absolutely,” says Mike Deegan, who will be too wrapped up in his role as Clare selector to worry about the uniqueness of the occasion.
“But we had something similar when we had Ger Loughnane on the opposition sideline. So it happens. There is the fact that Davy and Anthony know each other so well. But I don’t think there will be anything in it once the game starts.”
Nonetheless, tonight’s intriguing qualifying game in Ennis is as good a measure as any of the strength of character running through that Clare team of the mid 1990s. Fitzgerald’s return to his native Clare, after a glittering CV at Fitzgibbon Cup level and four seasons with Waterford that were defined by memorable extremes of both shining and black days has been one of the most entertaining stories in hurling over the past few years.
Daly, meanwhile, brought the forthright confidence that distinguished him as a player and manager with Clare into the Dublin dressingroom and the metropolitans responded by winning a first league title in 63 years. Suddenly, the idea of Dublin again winning the MacCarthy Cup did not seem so far-fetched.
In Daly, Dublin had found a perfect fit. With these two meeting tonight for a crucial knock-out match in Ennis, the old conundrum rears its head. Are managers born or made? When Mike McNamara thinks back to those dimly remembered training nights in Crusheen, sessions which acquired a kind of notoriety because of the savage demands they made on the players, he says the signs were there – but only in retrospect.
“At the time, of course, you wouldn’t look at it like that: they were players and they were treated like players and expected to behave like players. But in hindsight, when you look back, one would have seen that both of them had huge leadership qualities.
“Maybe Davy to the lesser extent at that time because he wasn’t captain and therefore he wasn’t the high-profile spokesperson that Anthony was.
“In a strange way, they have different personalities. They both have passion but Anthony Daly shows it in a calmer way. What comes with passion is usually success or at least performances that they can be proud of.
“Both those guys were always hurt by failure. Both of them were on Clare teams that were annihilated in games, particularly in high profile Munster games. And that would have made a lasting impression on both of them. So their attitude would always be that while they may be beaten, there will be nothing lacking in preparation or intensity or passion.
“There will be no grey areas when they are in charge. So that is why Anthony Daly, after the Kilkenny game, was so hurt. You could see it. It wasn’t the defeat. It was the fact that they had played beneath themselves. That would be a very hurtful thing for either of those boys.”
If you had taken a straw poll at the time, then the Clare players of the day would probably have plumped for Daly as a likely manager. He was staggeringly confident and had a lightning quick tongue and an orator’s intuition of how to play the crowd when he gave his captain’s speeches.
Fitzgerald’s drive manifested itself in the consistent excellence of his goalkeeping and the emotion that lit his eyes during the tremulous summers when Clare were led by Loughnane. When Fitzgerald began to manage teams, he brought the passion with him but also the fastidious habits he had formed as a player.
“With Davy, the detail he put into it at the time and the energy and the passion that he brought to the team was obvious,” McNamara says.
“But it is his ability to create challenges for himself that stood out. I would have had Davy Fitz from 1989 when we were in an All-Ireland minor final. If I or anyone else saw what might be perceived as a weakness in his game and that was pointed out to him, you would see the improvement between one training session and the next. That is the type of person he was: if the puck outs weren’t up to par, he would put the extra time in if there was no time at team sessions.
“The detail – he was one of those fellas who wanted perfection. A ball passing him in a training session would have been almost as hurtful as it would have been in Croke Park. So he sets these challenges and overcomes them.”
Drama follows both men. When Daly took over the Clare managerial post in 2002, he presided over a 19-point lesson at the hands of Waterford that carried loud echoes of the 1993 punishment at the hands of Tipperary. But under Daly, Clare recovered and reached successive All-Ireland semi-finals, in 2005 and 2006. By the time he stepped down, Clare were once again a significant force.
The task for Fitzgerald has been similar: when he took over the job last year, he estimated Clare were lagging in the bottom of the top 10 teams and saw his primary task as helping the team to push further up the table.
The league did much to create a sense of momentum in confidence but the defeat in the Munster championship leaves Fitzgerald with his first make-or-break situation.
The likelihood of meeting Dublin was always alive but in the Clare camp, the drama of the sideline reunion between the former team-mates has not been an issue.
“No, there has been nothing about Anthony and Davy among ourselves. Regarding us, we were very disappointed when we were beaten by Waterford but we felt that we played fairly well and there were things to improve on,” Mike Deegan says.
“So that was important to us regardless of who we got. There was always a chance that it would be Dublin but there has been no talk about it.”
Deegan readily concedes that Daly’s knowledge of Clare hurling gives Dublin an edge.
“I think so. I know Anthony says that he wouldn’t have that much knowledge but I can assure you that he knows Clare hurling well and he would have kept a special eye on guys and may know their weaknesses too. So he has that edge there. We know Dublin hurlers from what we have seen but we wouldn’t have that kind of knowledge.”
But it is the residual hurt caused by the utter capitulation against Kilkenny that is of greater concern to Clare people. McNamara was among the interested neutrals at that Leinster semi-final and, like everyone else, was completely mystified by Dublin’s failure to perform.
It makes the Dublin team a more dangerous proposition because they will still smarting from that experience and McNamara knows Daly won’t be shy about letting the panel know that they have an obligation to atone for it. After the optimism of last year, a defeat in Ennis would render Daly’s second season a crashing disappointment.
“It certainly makes it more complicated from a pundit’s view in terms of who will win it. It is most unusual – if Dublin play like that again, they won’t beat Clare; if they play as they did last year, they have a huge chance.
“There will be a big loser on Saturday evening. Maybe not a massive winner but to go out at this stage would be a serious disappointment. This one is so difficult to predict. The team that can raise it will win it. Clare need to finish better than they did the last day and Dublin need to start better.
“The season is gone after a lot of hype and expectation in both camps. Daly made the hype himself last year with what was a big step for Dublin. And there was big expectation here when Davy came in. So one of them is going to lose out. These are teams who would have ambitions to be there at the latter stages of the All-Ireland season and not to be there will be a huge blow for one of those teams.”
Instructing the Clare players on how to deal with Dublin’s need to put their world to rights becomes a key factor for Fitzgerald. “Look, we know the huge effort they have put in and they won’t want that to go to waste,” Deegan says.
“I am sure the players and management were probably embarrassed by what happened and they are going to want to put that right.”
Both Fitzgerald and Daly would be quick to point out that the once the whistle goes, the game will be decided between the lines. But since their warring days in Clare colours, both men have left fingerprints in the way that many big summer games have been shaped.
McNamara expects the approach of both teams to be dictated by the way both men approach the game. He isn’t expecting one of those furious summer evening games where goals fly and anything goes.
“Neither man is that kind of manager. I would expect the game will stay measured and controlled. I’d be surprised if there were rash challenges and that. They will be playing to a plan. They analyse games and work on the opposition. So I would think that it will be measured. But full-blooded too.”
“There will be a big loser on Saturday evening. Maybe not a massive winner but to go out at this stage would be a serious disappointment. This one is so difficult to predict. The team that can raise it will win it