Davy tired and happy as epic season ends with young guns on top

‘Flat out since February’ Clare boss gets his breath back


Clare leave the field and the big lights go off and suddenly you can’t see the gold streamers anymore and for the first time all evening, Davy Fitzgerald sits still. For the duration of the game he had paced the sideline, caught like everyone else in the grip of this game of games.

Now, he has a chance to take it all in. He seems tired and happy perhaps a bit surprised that this epic season – and contest – has finally ended. And that Clare, his county, are the All-Ireland champions. It is a far cry from the beginning of the year when he had his young team training flat-out in February in the league “just so we could survive.”

“So we have been flat out since February. We wouldn’t have trained as hard in the summer as we did earlier in the year. I love just to see them expressing themselves. They do things outside there and I’d be watching them thinking ... Jesus. I saw him [Tony Kelly] at full pace the other day bouncin’ a ball and not a bother on him. Taking a score from out the sideline when the score doesn’t look on. We have this thing of: go out and express yourself. But how hard they work is their biggest asset. They exceeded my expectations, yeah. My job is to take as much pressure of them as I can. But in my heart of hearts, I knew anything was possible with them.

Few tough years
“I believe in them so much. It has been a few tough years from my point of view. There has been a lot of stick. But this feeling – I am just so happy for the lads.” Drama follows Fitzgerald. All morning, the radio airwaves had crackled with the worst-kept secret in Clare: that Shane O’Donnell was in. It was a brave switch by Fitzgerald and the substitute responded with three goals. But then Darach Honan comes in and scores the goal which finally settled it with his first meaningful contribution.

“Darach Honan: let me make this clear. He has been carrying an injury for three months that nobody has known about. And my God, what a display. He got the goal that clinched it and I am so proud of it. Shane was incredible at training for the last two weeks. We played A versus Bs last Friday night and I have never seen anything like it. After 21 minutes we had eight goals and nine points scored and we had to stop it. That’s a fact. We said to ourselves: F***, it’s a week too early and we are going too well.”

Some All-Irelands go deeper than others. This year’s vintage has already been deemed unforgettable and because of that, this Clare team will stay vivid in the memory regardless of what happens in the seasons ahead.

“The biggest test of a Clare team was when they brought us back,” Fitzgerald says. “Everything was going against us. It was down to the boys themselves. It didn’t come from anyone else training them. Them boys have incredible resilience. They are good kids, they are honest kids. They will never give up.”

Fortnight flew by
They are poised for better days. It is easy to forget that the county claimed an All-Ireland U-21 title in between the drawn senior final and the replay. For those involved in both teams, the fortnight flew by.

“It was easy for the U-21s because your man shipped us off to training and there wasn’t a word spoken about the senior All-Ireland, not a word,” said Tony Kelly. So we focused on that and came back in and then focus on Cork. So credit to both managements . . . it would have been easy for all the focus to be on Cork. They say make hay when the sun shines. We want to believe we can win every day we go out.”

Clare are there now. All counties, even mighty Kilkenny, look west to Clare and wonder what they have to do to get the measure of them. Clare are young, brimming with confidence and ambition. But staying on top is easier said than done. “It is how you mind yourself,” Fitzgerald cautioned. “How you take care of yourself. That is the big thing about the lads: they know what I expect as a manager and what the conditions are to play for Clare. And however long more I am there, those conditions will be there so they will. When we go out we go out to win. But that is for another day. Today is about celebration.

“In fairness, I broke their back all year and they weren’t allowed much. So they are going to be allowed do a few days of it now anyway and go out and enjoy it.”