Because, even after this training exercise where 13 of his starters had a point etched beside their name, and even as his county ran up their highest championship score since Tony Griffin put four goals on the same opposition 10 seasons ago, the manager was bullish as he stood outside the Cusack Park dressing rooms on Saturday.
“All you can do is beat what’s put in front of you,” he said. “We didn’t become a bad team overnight, as people made us out to be. There’s been no bunch of lads that felt as bad in the last two weeks, since the Cork game. But we knew the formation Laois used against Galway and we worked all week on a plan for that. The Clare hurling public of course won’t be happy with your plan, which means you’ve to use the ball to a certain point and then score. But we aren’t a short ball team, we vary the ball in and we used short and long fairly well today. But we’ve bigger tests ahead.”
Laois hung tough for all of five minutes on Saturday, with John Brophy’s sweet score and a Zane Keenan effort briefly edging them out in front but the signs were ominous even then. That’ll hurt because after the promise of the Galway game, this washes that away and they finish their season just as they started it. As a county lost in the hurling wilderness.
“It was difficult as we didn’t bring out best game to Ennis,” said their manager Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett. “We’ll have to look at why that happened, but it seemed as if we couldn’t cope with Clare’s pace. The major issue is to consolidate hurling in the county but I am an extremely proud Laois hurling man and anything I can do to better the game in the county I will do it.”
It must have been a tough watch for him because here, when they tried to play it short, Clare’s physicality disrupted their plans. When they were forced to go long, Cian Dillon and the home half-back line controlled the skies, their strength and speed winning them clean ball and allowing them to burst out of defence. So much so that by the end of the first quarter, Clare led by 0-12 to 0-4. By the interval the home side had pushed into a 0-17 to 0-6 lead, Colin Ryan’s dead-ball accuracy matching Laois’s entire total.
“We’d practised all week at taking long range scores,” added Fitzgerald. “All year we’ve been averaging into the twenties and in the Cork game I think we had 31 chances. Thirty-one scoring chances, and we only converted 15, that’s why we lost. Today, we converted our chances. ”
It’s step by step now, getting tougher each week, and it would want to be for supporters’ sanity because the second-half was a write off. Peter Duggan was immense to be fair while Shane O’Donnell came off the bench and bagged himself a goal, but real quality is hard to judge in a rout.
“Next week will be a tough game,” concluded Fitzgerald. “Wexford will come out and let go unreal, and we’ve to do the very same. I honestly believe it’ll be good if we can come out of next week winning by a point or two. That’d be massive.”
Scorers for Clare: C Ryan 0-11 (8 fs, 2 65s) P Duggan 0-4, C McGrath 0-3, D Honan 0-3, S O’Donnell 1-0, P Collins 0-2, C Galvin 0-1, T Kelly 0-1, J Conlon 0-1, P O’Connor 0-1, P Donnellan 0-1, B Bugler 0-1, C Dillon 0-1 D McInerney 0-1, L Markham 0-1.
Scorers for Laois: S Maher 0-5 (3 fs), Z Keenan 0-4 (1 f), W Hyland 0-3, PJ Scully 0-2, J Brophy 0-1.
Subs for Clare: S O’Donnell for Honan (42); A Cunningham for Conlon (53); L Markham for Galvin (56); S Morey for Bugler (58); J Clancy for Ryan (61).
Subs for Laois: PJ Scully for Brophy (24); C Dunne for Walsh (34); B Duggan for Dune (44); B Conroy for Fitzgerald (60); A Collier for Healy (62).
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork).
CLARE P Kelly; D O’Donovan, D McInerney, C Dillon; B Bugler, P Donnellan, P O’Connor; C Gavin, C Ryan; J Conlon, T Kelly, P Duggan; P Collins, D Honan, C McGrath. LAOIS: E Reilly, J Delaney, B Stapleton; G Burke, M Whelan, J Fitzpatrick; J Walsh, C Healy; S Maher, Z Keenan, T Fitzgerald; J Brophy, W Hyland, B Dunne.