His words were hard-hitting and close to the bone and I’m sure the Clare squad and management must have felt they needed it – especially so close to a must-win game – like a hole in the head.
I’m not privy to the exact details of what went on behind the scenes, but management clearly made a decision and Davy O’Halloran and Nicky O’Connell made their own decision then based on the punishment which was meted out.
Davy O’Halloran’s graphic detail of how they were punished seemed extreme but if the Clare management had structures in place to deal with misdemeanours or breaches of discipline, Davy Fitzgerald and his management were carrying out the protocol they have in place.
I’m not saying I’m in agreement with the manner of the punishment, and how Davy Fitzgerald carried out their policy. But as a former inter-county manager, you’re always aware of trying to abide by the principles – and disciplinary framework – that is set in place. When Jimmy McGuinness cut Kevin Cassidy loose in Donegal at the end of 2011, for contributing to a book – which contravened McGuinness’ disciplinary framework – the whole world and its mother thought McGuinness had gone too far.
But by the following September, when Jimmy was winning matches and bagging an All-Ireland, nobody in Donegal – bar Cassidy – was disagreeing with how he had gone about his business.
The GAA has become so pressurised now that it’s a results-driven game and results define so much in terms of perception. If Clare are winning, do supporters really mind what is going on behind the scenes?
On the other hand, nobody wants to take a narrow view, or completely dismiss what O’Halloran said, and Clare have got to take a long hard look at how the whole dynamic really is within the squad. Management cannot run from the fact that there is too much comment and innuendo about what is going on in the camp, as much as there is on what’s happening on the pitch.
The sooner the air is cleared, the better for everyone.
After such an impressive win on Saturday, this is probably the week to do it, because there was a sense of the Dublin result being a starting point in the season.
Clare could have had six points in the bag by this stage if they had more luck against Galway and Tipperary, which suggested matters weren’t as bad anyway as they appeared on Saturday morning. Yet an open and frank meeting between everyone wouldn’t do Clare any harm.
Under huge pressure, Clare’s response – especially when reduced to 14 men – was brilliant but they can’t be complacent either and hope that one good result will iron out underlying creases which may still exist. Nobody will know more than Fitzy that you need everyone on the same wavelength if you’re going to win anything.
In a different form, Dublin have their own list of concerns this week after losing another game from a commanding position with an extra man.
Remember they also struggled when Kilkenny were reduced to 13. If you want to go back even further, this issue first manifested itself when I was Dublin manager in 2012, when we went to Ennis for a qualifier and blew a good position when six points up and having an extra man.
Three years on, is this happening again because the lads are mentally switching off and lulling themselves into a false sense of security? Whatever the reasons, this issue has to be addressed.
One team who really look tuned into a high frequency at the moment is Tipperary. After being impressed with them last week, I was even more impressed after yesterday. There looks to be a new steel to Tipp. They appear to be that bit harder. Their workrate was animal. In the 36th minute, they won a free after repelling three different Kilkenny defenders in a matter of seconds.
Their depth was further underlined being able to leave off John McGrath after he produced such a monumental performance last week. Niall O’Meara took his goal well. Seamus Callanan is exuding his fireproof confidence. Cathal Barrett is the best corner-back in the game at the moment.
Tipp won’t be getting carried away but they look like front-line favourites for the All-Ireland if they can maintain current form.
Kilkenny are still down a lot of bodies but the perception of Kilkenny’s second team being the second best in Ireland has long dissipated. Their struggles up front were really apparent because they had very little punch beyond Richie Hogan. The majority of Kilkenny’s attack still has to return but they need them.
With the way results have worked out, Kilkenny are already in a relegation final, where Clare or Dublin will join them. Dublin will be plunged into it if they lose to Galway and Clare beat Kilkenny.
Galway have nothing to play for now on Sunday. They can afford to send out a B team, and play some mind games with Dublin ahead of their championship meeting in May. Or else they could try and sicken the Dubs by beating them in their own backyard, which might be an even more lethal form of psychological warfare.
Either way, I think Galway should go with a strong team and deliver an honest performance. The integrity and hugely-competitive nature of this league deserves as much.