"They are decisions in the last year. If you look at it, we’re not getting them."
That Davy Fitzgerald quote can be banked alongside his “only the small, little fish” comment of 2013 and the many others he has provided in defence of his men.
The Clare manager simply doesn’t accept that his team have a disciplinary problem.
That’s something he is consistent about. Going right back to his very first championship game in charge of Clare in 2012 when they lost to Waterford.
He spoke in tongues about a penalty awarded to Waterford that appeared harsh on Cian Dillon: “I’m not going to comment this time. I’ll let the people that were there judge for themselves. If I make a comment on it, I know what’s going to happen. I’m not going to do that this time. I think it’s fairly evident but we’re not going to go down that road, blaming or looking at anybody. It’s there to be seen.”
Fitzgerald’s “riddle me this, riddle me that” post-defeat and draw interviews are old hat now so Sunday’s latest offering shouldn’t have surprised anyone. He feels he says it best when he says nothing at all, although little is left to the imagination.
It’s a technique he would have picked up from his days writing a column for a national newspaper. You can be sure Fitzgerald won’t fall foul of the sideline sanctions for making derogatory remarks about referees. He doesn’t say enough to warrant a reprimand but it’s clear he feels match officials aren’t being fair to his players.
In the first half on Sunday, he had to be warned about his conduct by Colm Lyons.
Fitzgerald was exercised with the amount of decisions going Limerick’s way. He was even more frustrated with Lyons in the tunnel afterwards as RTÉ cameras captured but seemingly about the amount of additional time that was allocated.
He might have had more reason to be angered about the free count in the second half, which read five to one in Limerick’s favour. It seems extraordinary that Clare picked up just one such call after half-time but indeed all of their scores in that period came from play.
In total, 14 shot frees were awarded against Clare to the six they won. Shane Dowling put over 10 of them. It was the third time in the Banner County’s last four championship outings that 10 or more frees have been converted against them. It was also the third time the scored free count has gone against them by at least a ratio of 2 to 1.
Against Cork last June, Pa Horgan scored 1-11 from placed balls to Colin Ryan’s five points. In the draw with Wexford, they managed 10 from frees to Wexford’s seven although in the replay they were punished for 12 points and converted just five free themselves.
Ryan is one of, if not the best, free-takers in the game so it’s not a question of inaccuracy of his part; it’s a question of whether Clare are so undisciplined or so hard done by.
The truth, like all such matters, most likely falls somewhere in between.
It seems incredible that the scored free count since they became All-Ireland champions could be stacked against them by so much. It’s not in the nature of free counts in hurling to be so lopsided, certainly not with such regularity against one team.
Fitzgerald put it to print journalists on Sunday: “I’ll ask every one of ye, do you think we’re a dirty team? Do you think we foul a lot?” The statistics say they do but it’s his assertion they damn referees more than his team.
Is Fitzgerald in denial? A few decisions were evidently harsh on Clare in Thurles — they certainly merited more than one free in the second half — but Limerick can say they were unlucky not to have picked up further frees in the first half when Donal O’Grady was fouled on two occasions close to the sideline in the first half.
Fitzgerald can do little about referees, what they might think of him, the possibility he rubs them up the wrong way or his intimation that Clare are not as respected as more traditional hurling counties.
Any sense of persecution has to be tempered by the fact his players are giving too much reason to the men in black to punish them.
Are Clare a dirty team? They’re not, but their tackling technique can let them down. The full-back line’s reading of the game has to improve. Clare are far from done in this championship but their recovery won’t be built on crying foul about fouls.
Are we simply paying lip service to sledging?
It seems as if some GAA commentators have taken more delight in regaling stories about sledging than actually condemning how prevalent the practice has become.
As if somehow it’s an opportune time to chronicle the quips and comebacks of yesteryear.
This is no longer the stuff of a D’Unbelieveables sketch. You know the one: where Jon Kenny takes on his Timmy Ryan character and instructs his underage players to insult their markers’ families. In the context of what is alleged to have happened in the minor game in Ballybofey last Sunday week, that joke isn’t funny anymore.
Nobody expects players to be quiet on a field but it’s the suggestion that a lot of this sledging is premeditated that’s so alarming. Tyrone took it upon themselves to investigate the claim made by Donegal minor manager Declan Bonner that his captain Micheál Carroll was subjected to verbal abuse about the recent death of his father. They found no evidence to support the allegation although selector Ryan McMenamin told one newspaper: “It angers me because if it is the incident that I’m thinking, I know the (Tyrone) player personally and I know that he is not that sort of player.”
But who is? Tyrone’s investigation reminded this writer of his time in Sydney 13 years ago when a friend came home from a night out with a busted lip. Asked if he provoked somebody, he denied and denied before under relentless interrogation admitted: “I might have said something”.
The Ulster Council, not Tyrone, should have been the ones asking the questions.
Joe Brolly must rein in loose talk
Credit to Marty Morrissey for making no more of Joe Brolly’s egregious comment about him on live television on Sunday. Few would have been so honourable after a lame attempt at a joke at his expense.
Brolly took liberties, not for the first time and most certainly not for the last. It was his third apology in the last three years.
RTÉ themselves know what they get with the Derry man: he is an agenda setter, the most well-known pundit in the country, but he can be terribly loose too.
When his pros and cons are weighed up, the former still outstrip the latter by plenty but he can’t afford to believe he’s untouchable.
If he’s not careful he could end up as RTÉ’s Jeremy Clarkson. At least he has the day job.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved