Drawn-out process for picking new Clare manager provokes anger on all sides

Whoever finally emerges, it promises to be a rocky start to life for the incoming boss

Brian Lohan: the former Banner star remains one of the contenders for the Clare manager’s job. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

Brian Lohan: the former Banner star remains one of the contenders for the Clare manager’s job. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

 

In Clareabbey on Wednesday night, if felt at times like there was a severed electrical cable flapping this way and that, live and dangerous and hard to control.

The Clare County Board had convened a meeting of the clubs with a single item on the agenda, that of the management of the Clare senior hurling team. You’d have needed a fair dose of chutzpah though to claim there was only one agenda at play.

It’s 118 days since Clare were knocked out of the championship and they are no closer now to knowing who will manage them next year than they were then. These things tend to play out in a miasma of half-truths and pickled allegiances so it’s probably best to start with some facts, uncontested by anyone.

While Gerry O’Connor announced in September that he was stepping down, his long-standing co-manager Donal Moloney was interested in carrying on and expressed as much to the county board.

Just about everything else comes down to who you talk to, not to mention who they talked to and when they talked to them

Last weekend, Moloney took himself out of the running, leaving Louis Mulqueen and Brian Lohan in the race. On Wednesday night, the clubs passed a motion extending the process by another fortnight, asking for submissions of interest before October 21st.

And that’s more or less the sum of it, as far as the known knowns are concerned. Just about everything else comes down to who you talk to, not to mention who they talked to and when they talked to them.

The official county board version says that Moloney was called in for a meeting in September after O’Connor stepped away and was told that regardless of his interest in the gig, Clare would be exploring other options. Ask around, however, and this only tells a portion of the story.

Multiple sources in the county maintain that Moloney made his initial bid for the gig in mid-summer, with everyone fully aware that O’Connor would be moving on. The two men had worked side by side in Clare dugouts for over a decade but while O’Connor was ready to melt back into civilian life, Moloney made no secret of his desire to put a new backroom team together and keep going.

When he met with county secretary Pat Fitzgerald and chairman Joe Cooney a month ago, it was, as he saw it, to interview for the job. After which, there was nothing but silence.

A spikier bunch would have kicked up long before now at the state of their training facility in Caherlohan

Inquiries from Moloney’s side as to how he had done went unanswered. Given that (a) Moloney was popular with the players, (b) that Clare are only 13 months on from coming within inches of being in an All-Ireland final under him and O’Connor and (c) the whole county knew he’d been to meet with the powers that be, it was seen as him being left to twist in the wind.

Another hurdle

That’s certainly how the players saw it. The Clare panel would never be known as a particularly difficult group to deal with – possibly to their detriment at times. A spikier bunch would have kicked up long before now at the state of their training facility in Caherlohan, a grim hotchpotch of four pitches and unfinished facilities in Tulla, none of them with a decent surface to hurl on.

As one member of the set-up puts it, “I don’t know if they ever actually got around to calling it a Centre of Excellence. Maybe they did but if I saw it, I’d have got a chuckle out of it.”

In that light, it would have come as no surprise to anyone in Clare that when the players put out a statement last week voicing their frustration at how long it was taking to find a manager, Caherlohan got a mention. Over the years, they’ve had to train at various locations, including UL, LIT and different clubs across Clare because the Centre of Excellence isn’t up to it. Just another hurdle for any prospective Clare manager to have to jump.

Nonetheless, Moloney was keen to go again. Given that they never came back to him, the county board evidently weren’t quite as keen on him. Into the void, Brian Lohan pitched his name eight days ago. Which is where the politics of it all kicked up a notch.

As anyone with even a vague knowledge of Clare hurling will know, Lohan has had a long-standing and seemingly irreparable falling-out with former Clare teammate Davy Fitzgerald. Davy is, of course, the son of Pat, county secretary for the past three decades.

Coincidentally or not, the day Lohan declared an interest in the job also happened to be the day of Davy’s wedding last Friday week. By the end of the day, Louis Mulqueen, long-time ally of Fitzgerald’s and his former selector with Clare, was in the mix as well.

There is a sizeable rump of Clare hurling folk who see evidence of a man who can’t let go as much as anything

The Wexford manager, it should be stressed, has nothing to do with any of this. But even he would concede that the battle lines have been drawn in Clare hurling for a long time, with his father generally always there in the middle of it.

Pat Fitzgerald has been in the big seat for a lifetime and although he has been county secretary for three of Clare’s four All-Irelands, there is a sizeable rump of Clare hurling folk who see that statistic as evidence of a man who can’t let go as much as anything.

After four months of no move on the managerial front, it felt notable as soon as Lohan’s name went forward, that Mulqueen’s emerged almost immediately. Moloney clearly felt as much, and withdrew his name on Sunday night, citing “ongoing uncertainty over the process of selecting new management”.

“At best it was chaotic,” said Scariff delegate Dan Treacy of the process on Wednesday night as the clubs came together in Clareabbey to thrash the whole thing out. Lohan and Mulqueen had been interviewed two days previously and the general assumption across the county was that Mulqueen had won out.

The level of anger this kicked off is unfair to Mulqueen, who is a respected coach and a long-standing servant of the county. But because he was seen, rightly or wrongly, as the county board’s man, it led to wigs on the green during the 62-minute meeting.

Real anger

“We owe it to the players that we get it right,” said Treacy at one point, according to the Clare Echo’s account of the night.

“We have some unbelievable players involved and we owe it to them. A rushed decision will not do them any justice. Voting tonight would be disrespectful to the players. I won’t even go into the disrespect that has been shown to Donal Moloney.”

The room fizzed this way and that. There was real anger at how everything had been handled, at the fact that neither Mulqueen nor Lohan had been asked who was in their backroom team, at the length of time it had all taken. At one stage, it was suggested that the committee to pick a new manager would not be chaired by the county chairman, a direct attack at the top table.

In the end, they decided to restart the process and opened it up again. Where it all goes from here is devilishly hard to predict. It may very well be that they arrive back on October 22nd with the same two candidates still in the race.

If so, can a different interview panel feasibly arrive at a different decision without it being seen as a direct defiance of the top brass? Whether they do or they don’t, it’s a rocky old start to life for the incoming manager.

The county final is down for decision tomorrow with Sixmilebridge facing their garden-fence rivals Cratloe. If next year’s man is in the crowd, he’ll be watching in a personal capacity, uncertain as to his standing.

Whoever it is deserves better.

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