Should he stay or he should go?
Or if you happen to be that ‘he’ yourself, should I stay or should I go?
At this moment in time it’s a question being asked of or by the likes of John Evans, Liam Dunne, Mick O’Dowd, Davy Fitzgerald, possibly even TJ Ryan.
No one should take any joy in their discomfort and predicament. All have done the state or that county some service and more. But that is not what is most relevant now.
The question and calculation is are they what’s best suited to serve that state in 2016 and beyond?
Naturally, Davy is the one that attracts the most fascination. He’s the most box office, the most divisive, and, as he wouldn’t be shy to point out to you in person at least, the most successful too, having delivered the ultimate, as recently as only 22 months ago.
But so much has changed since then. Not just results, but more importantly, relationships. With the Clare public, and more importantly, the Clare players.
Back then he wasn’t just winning; he was still something fresh, he was still only in year two.
But now season four has come and gone, and as Jim McGuinness pointed out upon his departure, Olympic cycles are four years for a reason.
Same Voice Syndrome tends to kick in, especially when your voice is as constant and as shrill as Davy’s. About the only way to offset it is to keep winning, the Cody method you could say, or if you’re losing, to keep it to just the one downward year.
Davy’s now coming off a second season without reaching an All-Ireland quarter-final.
This past season his backroom weren’t as respected as previous ones while his own approach was highly questionable.
Last December, when there was a function to mark the three U21 All-Irelands in a row, and honour the departure and role of joint-manager Gerry O’Connor, Fitzgerald scheduled training for the following morning.
Remaining that high octane is high risk and hugely increases the chances of staleness if not outright burnout.
Probably the most telling game of the lot was this year’s first-round defeat against Limerick.
At most a quarter of the 21,000 attendance in Thurles were from Clare. But what was just as telling was how the Clare team itself set up. Limerick mentors would privately admit after the game they were both relieved and astounded that a side with Clare’s firepower and talent didn’t play more orthodox.
Fitzgerald and Clare were unfortunate that Conor McGrath wasn’t available that day, but if you look at when else he was available this year, you’d have to ask: are his talents being best deployed and maximised? Could he prosper better under a new system, a new regime? For sure.
It’s impossible not to have some sympathy and a lot of admiration for Fitzgerald.
You can mock all you like him calling upon the services of a public relations advisor; to these eyes, it showed he’s aware of some of his faults and open to changing them.
He’s been civil and cooperative in almost all his dealings with the media this year. He was gracious in defeat to Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Cork (though there has never been anyone more gracious in both victory and defeat than JBM himself). You can almost hear Davy’s inner dialogue, sounding all Samuel L Jackson: I’m trying, Ringo. I’m trying real hard.
That’s why we squirmed a bit when we heard Paul Collins on Today FM bluntly ask James O’Connor about Clare’s regression the last couple of years: “Who’s to blame?” It reminded us of that passage near the end of the recent Dave Nicholls novel, Us. A long-married couple are on the brink of breaking up.
The husband is particularly appalled at the prospect of their marriage having ‘failed’. But she tells him if it comes to pass, it doesn’t mean they should view their marriage as a “failure” or “defeat” or a “mistake”. It would be none of those things. It would have just expired, that’s all.
Pat Riley found it the same when finishing up with the LA Lakers after a glorious decade of success.
“Our decline was no one’s fault,” he’d write.
“It was simply time for us to sit in the same room, look each other in the eye and say ‘We had a great run. All of us. Now, instead of wounding each other, let’s say thanks and goodbye.”
So it is with Fitzgerald. It should be less a matter of what’s best for him or even the children as what’s best for the players and the county.
As Sting would say, if you love somebody, set them free.
It would be a shame if the players were to come to hate the sight of him – which there’s a danger of — rather than there being an eternal gratitude and fondness for what they achieved together.
You could easily see Clare prospering under a new management, with a Donal Moloney and/or Anthony Daly at the helm. And Davy prospering elsewhere, much more so than he would in Clare in a year five.
The fear and suspicion is that while Davy should say thanks and goodbye, he won’t. Politically he still has a strong support base; his father Pat remains county secretary, and not enough of the clubs will be up for a bloodletting. The players too will hardly want any confrontation, not as much as Davy will still probably want the job. If he does stay on one more year, that has to be it.
Still. Three years ago, we remember a conversation with James Horan. Banty McEnaney had just survived a motion of no-confidence in Meath while Gerry Cooney had just stepped down mid-season in Offaly. “Inter-county management is becoming an impossible job,” Horan observed. “You can only aim to leave the team in a better place for the next guy.” That’s something Horan would do. And Davy has as well. You just hope he doesn’t mess up any inheritance any more.