For four hours on Sunday night, Davy Fitzgerald and Dónal Óg Cusack thrashed it out. What each would expect of the other. What they would expect of Clare. Common ground found, they plotted and schemed for 2016.
They might be members of the old goalkeepers club but they had never been close. They have clashed in the past on a number of matters and shared different opinions on the GPA. But on the one topic that matters, sources close to the Clare manager say the pair “gel”: Cusack sees hurling the way Fitzgerald sees it. What Fitzgerald did with his players in 2013, Cusack has described as a “fantastic brand of hurling”.
Had Cusack been in the grounds that shares his name in February two years ago when Fitzgerald was heckled as Clare played short and through the lines in losing to Waterford, he would have sympathised. For it’s exactly how he would have set up Clare. Seven months later and those jeers had turned to jubilation.
The mutual appreciation between the pair developed that year with Cusack fulsome in his praise for Clare’s style on The Sunday Game. Previewing the 2013 final, the admiration for Clare was clear in his analysis of the sweeper tactic they operated for most of that year’s championship.
In an interview that summer, Fitzgerald returned the favour: “Myself and Dónal Óg Cusack wouldn’t have any great relationship, but the one thing I will say is, he is able to read it. I would be more interested in hearing what he has to say because he tries to read the game. He has no agendas, he’ll call it as he sees it, so he will and different things. You have to nearly experience — he experienced management at club level probably — you have to experience this on both levels.”
Writing in his Irish Examiner column last July, Cusack recounted a conversation he had the previous week with the Clare manager at a fundraiser for Ken McGrath in Waterford. “You know you’re the only one who could nearly figure out what we were doing last year,” he told Cusack, referring to his analysis of Clare’s All-Ireland winning tactics.
What some might think is a match made in hell is actually one of reciprocity.
On Cusack’s part, by leaving prominent roles with the GPA and RTÉ he has shown how much being back at the coalface of the game means to him.
The bacon the World Health Organisation are currently damning will fly before he has a similar opportunity in his native county anytime soon. Like his former RTÉ colleague Kevin McStay, there is a chance to be a prophet outside his own land.
On the surface, it may be construed Fitzgerald is taking a slight step back, as he has been advised by some of his critics in Clare. Cusack’s voice will carry and count for just as much as his but by adding his name to the ticket is definitely one in the eye for those former team-mates and managers of his, some who demanded an independent, root and branch review of the season.
But the bottom line is Cusack has been introduced to bring back the savagery lacking in Clare’s game since 2013. Statistics show the county’s intensity levels have dropped dramatically in the last two seasons. With Cusack on board, Fitzgerald will be expecting that graph to jump.
The brutal honesty of Cusack’s approach will have appealed to Fitzgerald too. The truth sessions he incorporated into Cloyne’s preparations would resonate with him and, as Tomás Ó Sé reveals in his autobiography, are popular in the most successful counties if not by name.
Fitzgerald knows starting today there are likely to be people questioning the appointment before Cusack has even joined him on the sideline. Ger Loughnane may be one of them but Cusack shares a similar vision for Clare to his.
At the medal presentation two years ago, Loughnane caused some commotion when in a speech he told the players they wouldn’t be a great team until they won a second All-Ireland. In this newspaper last October, Cusack expressed his wish for Clare in 2015: “That Clare will reach their full potential. If that group of players don’t win three All-Irelands, they have failed.”
In a piece he wrote on the GAA website after Clare beat Cork in the All-Ireland final replay, he questioned how Fitzgerald would keep things fresh in the coming years: “How does a manager ration his input so that players don’t get sick of the very sound of his voice? How do you deal with teams catching up on you, adopting their play in order to deal with your play? How do you cope with the loss of innocence?”
Fitzgerald has now answered Cusack’s questions with Cusack.
Kilkenny can’t help but have noticed yesterday’s stirring in the west. Liam’s not yet settled into his regular hibernation on Noreside and Clare have signalled they will have their bows drawn with a quivering menace.
Whether they hit their target is another thing, but for certain it will make for a spectacle.
For one, Division 1B will never be so interesting.
Few GAA autobiographies have or will generate as much laughs as Tomás Ó Sé’s “The White Heat”. For a man who took his football so seriously, he played just as hard as he worked. He also knows how to tell a story, as his wit shines throughout the book.
One or two wild tales don’t make the pages. Like how a few team-mates hid his ATM card after one All-Ireland victory, meaning he had to beg and borrow. But there’s plenty of insight into the devilment that glued that great Kerry team of the 2000s.
Relayed masterly by Michael Moynihan of this parish, there’s a majesty to the fondness with which Ó Sé speaks of his late uncle Páidí. His recollection of Páidí’s ticket hunts is accurate: We remember the pair not being on speaking terms the morning after the 2009 All-Ireland final. Páidí felt Tomás had let him down for a ticket or two. By mid-afternoon, they were toasting the win over Cork.
We do, though, take issue with Ó Sé’s claim he wasn’t fond of talking to the media during his playing days. Compared to Darragh, he was a veritable motor mouth.
He always provided good copy to journalists. With Michael, he has delivered once more.
Well, who would have thought it? New Cork senior football manager Peadar Healy had said no to the idea of dual players. We can only imagine Kieran Kingston is of the same mind, though given he holds most of such aces at the moment apart from Eoin Cadogan, he might have decided discretion is the better part of valour.
As we have written here before, when an athlete of Aidan Walsh’s quality decides he can’t split his time between the two codes, then there is no hope for anybody else.
It is good that Healy is making his intentions clear from the outset. That all-or-nothing attitude is exactly what Cork football needs at present.
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