John Fogarty: There are many layers to this Clare GAA controversy

There are a lot of good people with genuine bona fides willing to lend in Clare
John Fogarty: There are many layers to this Clare GAA controversy

21 November 2020; Clare manager Brian Lohan Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

SHORTLY after Brian Lohan’s appointment as Clare senior hurling manager at the end of October 2019, he and his selectors met with county secretary Pat Fitzgerald and then chairman Joe Cooney.

Fitzgerald had learned Lohan was reluctant for him to be the liaison officer between the board and the camp. The secretary chose to tackle the matter head on and asked for an explanation from Lohan. The great Clare full-back mentioned Fitzgerald was the father of “an opposing manager”.

Fitzgerald, then on the verge of 30 years in the role, looked at all three men across the table from him and told them integrity was the one thing he held dearest above everything else. Was his loyalty to his county and job being questioned? Fitzgerald left the meeting as liaison officer.

Referring to Davy Fitzgerald by his name seems to be beyond those who have issues with him. When Lohan’s kit-man and Kilmaley delegate Niall Romer questioned if Davy Fitzgerald would be on the new hurling sub-committee focusing on underage structures at a recent board meeting, he put it: “Can you clarify if the Wexford manager is included?” (It was recently reported that Romer asked Fitzgerald about money raised in the US during the Clare-Wexford qualifier in Portlaoise last month, when in fact he had shouted at him and was warned about his conduct by stewards).

Never mind that involving the last man to lead the county to an All-Ireland SHC title eight years ago and one of the county’s four Division 1 titles in 2016 might actually be good practice, his presence would have been unacceptable to some.

At times during this sorry saga, you would swear it was Davy, not his father Pat, that their detractors want rid of once and for all. Is some of the bad feeling fuelled by the fear in some quarters that Davy Fitzgerald might one day return to the position he left in 2016?

It was mentioned last week Lohan was never asked about his backroom team when initially interviewed for the position — neither was the other candidate Louis Mulqueen. But that doesn’t fit the narrative spun against Pat Fitzgerald. No, Mulqueen, a former selector of Davy Fitzgerald’s was going to step aside to allow him take the reins once more. Notwithstanding, Mulqueen is a proven manager in his own right and also previously assisted Ger Loughnane.

Much was made of the locked gates presented to the Clare senior management in Cusack Park last November as if it was typical of the lack of support Lohan was receiving from the county executive. The inconvenient truth was the HSE were using the stadium for Covid testing, protocols were in place and they were not due to arrive to set up for training until 9am. A lock was broken in an attempt to gain entry.

You could be led to believe the Clare County Board were being unhelpful to Lohan as he looked to change GPS suppliers last year when they hadn’t previously received a bill for such services. In that regard, the recent relaunch of Club Clare, who in previous years absorbed such costs, is timely.

Clare isn’t short of conspiracy theorists who rubbish the idea of a criminal investigation into online abuse of Pat Fitzgerald. We will quote the email the Garda Press Office sent this newspaper early last July: “This investigation is ongoing. A file is currently being prepared.” Some of these QAnon-like individuals took the good name of The Friends and Supporters of Clare GAA Dublin to write an intimidating email to club secretaries about “non-existent abuse” of Pat Fitzgerald prior to last month’s county board meeting. Supporters club chairman Pat Nihill was so disturbed by their actions, he issued a disclaimer to the Clare Champion.

When this column recently wrote about the scourge of social media abuse, highlighting the Fitzgerald example, it was accused of distracting from the bigger issue in Clare. As if the vilification of a long-standing GAA official who has played his part in three of the county’s four All-Ireland SHC titles, “cowardly” abuse as described by Munster GAA secretary Kieran Leddy, was insignificant. Remarks made on the Facebook page “Clare, Clare, Clare”, which changed its name to “Clare Times” in September last year, are at the centre of the investigation. They maintain there was no abuse.

Whether it’s jealousy, hatred, a dangerously clumsy attempt at a power play or all three, the campaign waged against the Fitzgerald family is getting in the way of the necessary efforts to modernise Clare GAA, which has been recognised by the county executive.

There are a lot of good people with genuine bona fides willing to lend them a hand. But mixed among them are those whose agendas are considerably less wholesome and the more they insult, the more the lines become blurred.

Calls for crowds at games will grow louder

It’s Sunday, July 25, the sun is splitting the stones in Killarney. Cork and Kerry fans are sampling all the hostelries have to offer al fresco with big screens ready to show the town’s first Munster SFC final in four years.

Yet traipse to the top of Lewis Road and the scene couldn't be starker, the event they have all gathered for is sterile, the stand and terraces all but vacant.

The thousands among the 32,000 crowd who turned up early in Fitzgerald Stadium to watch David Clifford work his magic in the provincial minor final four years ago would dearly love to see David Clifford in his first Munster SFC decider on home soil.

And oh how the travelling Cork folk would like to be able to say they were in the stadium the day they broke their championship duck in Killarney going back to 1995. If anything could top Mark Keane’s last-gasp goal last November, that would be it.

Of course, reigning champions Tipperary, a Clare team who are in their fifth straight season in Division 2, and a vastly improving Limerick will have something to say about this scenario becoming a reality. Yet it is the most probable one and how downright absurd it will be to have the game’s atmosphere transferred downtown. Like Con Houlihan famously wrote: “I missed Italia '90. I was in Italy.”

The GAA are extremely cautious about the idea of crowds returning for games this year but with each and every vaccination, the demand for admission will increase.

Semi-final bye for Banner hurlers would have been fair

Having been drawn against each other in the Munster SHC quarter-final five times in 10 seasons (2009-17), Cork and Tipperary must be wondering what has happened after being handed separate semi-finals for the second year in a row.

Then again, on all five occasions the winners reached the final - Tipperary went all the way the three times they beat Cork while the Rebels won the 2017 Munster title and lost to Waterford in the 2010 decider.

But before Limerick went all the way after beating Clare first day out last year, they hadn’t won Munster from the quarter-final stage since 1996. Waterford previously progressed through all three stages of the competition in 2004 while Clare last achieved the feat in 1997 when Kerry were part of the competition.

For the second time in seven months, Clare will have to win three games in a short space of time to end a wait that now goes back 23 years. Trying to ascertain who got the shorter end of the stick, Brian Lohan's side or the county’s footballers who face Kerry yet again, is a tough one.

The beauty of the Munster senior hurling championship is its natural competitiveness but perhaps provincial chiefs could follow the lead of their Ulster counterpart who created a football preliminary round bye for counties drawn at that stage in the previous two seasons. In what is likely to be the last knock-out Munster SHC, something similar could have been extended to Clare.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie

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