Sport makes grown adults do silly things. Hurling sillier. Its frenzied nature plays on your most basic fears. Primal instincts come to bear. Emotional intelligence takes a back seat.
Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor are two of the most accomplished businessmen you could meet. Leaders of industry in Depuy Synthes Johnson & Johnson and Mincon respectively, their calmness, authority, and articulation has always come across in their dealings with the media.
Having led Clare to three consecutive All-Ireland U21 titles following on from two Munster minors, their acumen as managers is undoubted. Guiding the seniors to back-to-back provincial senior final appearances under different structures is nothing to dismiss either.
As Anthony Daly highlighted, they are the third most successful management in Clare hurling history. But hurling brings out the madness in them. White line fever is not something they are above and they have never made any secret of it.
“We’re two cranky East Clare farmers’ sons, ultimately,” quipped O’Connor before the 2017 Munster final. That’s not to defend what O’Connor did to Daniel Kearney on Sunday. It was completely unacceptable.
Level-headed as he usually is, he would likely think back to the moment and cringe and his punishment, while it will likely amount to a suspension he will never serve, is nevertheless a stain.
But what O’Connor did was also rash and reactive. It wasn’t premeditated and it opened a window into the pressure of inter-county management. Former Clare manager Daly was criticised on social media for not damning O’Connor — “It’s exactly what we needed” — he wasn’t going to be a hypocrite when his own passions have got the better of him on the sideline.
Had Davy Fitzgerald done it, the reaction would have been sensational although there have been instances when the current Clare management or those associated with it have become embroiled in unfortunate circumstances.
Sliotargate, which saw O’Connor’s son fling Anthony Nash’s bag of sliotars into the Town End terrace in Thurles prior to the 2017 Munster final, was unseemly.
Last year, Moloney succeeded in having his sideline ban overturned after he was handed a penalty retrospectively for minor interference with linesman Johnny Murphy and Tipperary management at the end of Clare’s Munster SHC Round 4 win in Thurles. As the case was being processed, Moloney was able to man the sideline but the GAA have since introduced a rule ensuring that loophole can no longer be exercised.
In March of this year, Moloney and Limerick manager John Kiely clashed on the sideline in the teams’ Division 1A draw in Cusack Park. Incidentally, for that game, last year’s SHC meeting with Tipperary and again on Sunday, Paud O’Dwyer was the referee in charge.
Last year, the pair brought Clare to Croke Park for the first time since 2013 and, as Mike McNamara’s comments in this newspaper last week suggested, the character shown in the All-Ireland semi-final draw with Galway and the subsequent replay defeat in Thurles compensated for a second successive Munster final loss to Cork.
But for two successive Sundays it was so lacking. The players, who have never been able to scale the heights of six years ago, have themselves as much as the management to blame — their former team-mate Darach Honan’s contention they gave up after Seamus Callanan’s goal last month was damning, to say the least.
Naturally, Moloney tried to sidestep the fate of O’Connor on Sunday, keener to accentuate the positives.
For a county who will be waiting 22 years for a provincial senior title by the time 2020 comes around, it wasn’t the greatest choice of words by Moloney, but understandable. The previous couple of weeks must have been hellish for this Clare group.
Where Moloney and O’Connor go from here appears to be resignation. That’s not our opinion but based on their own words. Last year, O’Connor admitted he and Moloney had built up last year’s Munster SHC Round 4 game against Tipperary as make or break for them.
“Look it, we’ve a two-year contract. You’re judged, it’s an absolute dog-eat-dog, inter-county environment.”
Two years ago, the pair came close to stepping away after just one season when Tipperary saw them off in a quarter-final.
“In my world where you work you’re judged on your results and them only,” said O’Connor. “You’re judged and measured on your performance. Rightly or wrongly, that’s how we judge ourselves as a management and that’s how we judge our players.”
If they are true to their word, they will bid farewell having giving their all. Intelligent men who have shown when it comes down to it they have as many faults as much as the next person. Hurling truly is the great leveller.