Clare have the hurling nous to cope if Davy Fitzgerald is absent

Louis Mulqueen, Donal Óg Cusack and Paul Kinnerk offer a wealth of experience

Manager Davy Fitzgerald's absence would be a severe loss to Clare hurlers this Sunday against Galway.

The 44-year-old may or may not recover sufficiently to prowl the sideline of Semple Stadium. But, should the angioplasty stents inserted around his heart earlier this week prevent direct involvement in the All-Ireland quarter-final, this well-oiled Banner machine should still perform in the manic yet accurate manner he coaxed out of them en route to the 2013 All-Ireland title.

The days of Davy slamming tables are seemingly over, or they are certainly far likely to occur since he had a heart monitor attached for games following the unblocking of an artery in 2009.

“I’ve often checked my heart-rate in games and, trust me, I won’t allow it to be up for a long period of time . . ,” Fitzgerald was quoted as saying recently.


“It’s funny enough, I come back down quick enough.

“If you really watch the sideline, you’d often see myself and [Donal Óg] Cusack having the laugh. We could have been fighting half a minute beforehand and the next thing we would be back on the thing again. I suppose it’s years of competing and stuff.”

Cusack’s presence in any management team could never be anonymous but there is subtlety of movement to the former Cork goalkeeping great.

Water bottle in lámh, he usually eases onto Fitzgerald’s shoulder with a whisper of words. Davy tends to nod in agreement. These words get translated from goalkeeping dialect and passed down the ranks so outfielders can comprehend them.

Two men who have spent a lifetime behind the other 28 splintering skin and bone off each other should be well placed to make calm, concise tactical decisions amidst the white heat of action.

Best coaches

Clare also have

Paul Kinnerk

back in their corner. They desperately missed the man with the whistle as 2015’s attempts at replicating the glorious 2013 fell asunder.

“It’s a massive boost, I’d rate him up there as one of the best coaches or trainers I’ve ever worked with,” said the masterful Tony Kelly after Kinnerk’s return last winter.

“And if you asked any of the lads they’d tell you the same.”

Just glance at his record: Kinnerk was involved with the Clare minors that won a Munster title in 2010, the under-21 All-Ireland winning teams of 2012 to 2014 and put the seniors through their paces before every thrilling encounter en route to their first All-Ireland title since 1997 three years ago.

He left Fitzgerald’s management after the 2014 season to coach his native Limerick’s underage football and hurling academies as well as working with the county minors. Fitzgerald found a way to let him coach around the counties but prioritise Clare.

On match days, as throw-in approaches, Kinnerk is in charge.

Then there is Louis Mulqueen. Further proof that Fitzgerald does not possess an ego when it comes to leadership is the presence of Mulqueen, another renowned Clare hurling man who has coached more than he hurled due to injury curtailing his playing days.

Mulqueen worked with Ger Loughnane during the early stages of the Clare rising and followed him up to Galway.

On Sunday, because of them, should Davy be confined to the stand or his living room, Clare will not lack for hurling IQ.

But it is the hurlers themselves who have shown, certainly in the league final endgame against Waterford and the recent dismissal of Limerick, that they have a habit of upping their intensity and maintaining their marvellous skill-sets, when victory seems to be slipping from their grasp.

A worry

What is a worry for Clare – for Davy, Mulqueen, Donal Óg and Kinnerk – is an inability to regain their 2013 standards.

They were present n the league final replay at the end and for flashes before half-time against Limerick but that is all really.

"It would be something special to go three games in a row against Waterford and not lose," said Brendan Bugler, Clare's 30-year-old wing back.

“It was what it was but everything is about championship so while we were delighted to win [the league] that first game against Waterford in championship, we took that very seriously. But it was always going to be a tough task to go through those three games and not lose.”

Laois felt the full brunt of their frustrations (5-32 to 0-12) before they eased past Limerick with, crucially, Podge Collins, Shane O’Donnell and Tony Kelly all registering difficult scores.

“It’s good to have another chance and it helps that we have been down this road before,” said Bugler.

Clare also would know that they beat Galway more often than they don’t. Over 14 championship dates, nine times they have left with the spoils. Granted, that is evenly spread at three wins apiece this century, most importantly in 2013.

So, really, the legacy of these current, potentially golden, generations is on the line here.

Clare people will struggle to accept another summer falling shy of hurling in Croke Park in August. But Joe Canning must be desperate not to be another year closer to 30 without touching the holy grail. The history of sporting greatness is still with him. Canning is 27 now - same age as Lebron James was when he finally captured an NBA championship ring in 2012. Michael Jordan was 28.

There is still time, just not that much. It helps that Canning is surrounded by gifted forwards in recent seasons.

"Joe got a bit of stick last year but he has actually added something to his game last year that people didn't really see," claimed Galway captain David Burke. "In the years before that everything was expected to be on him whereas last year other players stood up around him and chipped in with a lot of scores. That was due to the ability of him to bring others into the game and taking pressure off himself as well. He is doing that again this year . . .

“Things just didn’t go well the last day [against Kilkenny] but he hit frees well if you can take one positive out of the game. I’m sure he will know himself, he is a serious quality player and Clare backs know full well when he is in form he is hard to stop. He has the ability to take [out)] two or three backs and then maybe another Galway forward can come up trumps – the likes of Cathal Mannion, Conor Whelan or Conor Cooney.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent