Davy Fitzgerald made a promise to himself that he would enjoy the 2016 season after being “kicked left, right and centre” by his critics.
And the Clare boss admits he didn’t savour the Banner County’s 2013 All-Ireland success enough, as he feared what was coming down the tracks when the tide turned.
Clare limped out of the All-Ireland qualifiers in the last two seasons and Fitzgerald discovered that not even that recent Liam MacCarthy Cup success could stave off the inevitable brick-bats.
But the smile is back on the face of Fitzgerald and Clare hurling this year after a first National League title in 38 years was secured against Waterford last month.
And it was a pertinent message from coach Dónal Óg Cusack that helped Fitzgerald find a new perspective.
Fitzgerald reflected: “I didn’t actually enjoy the All-Ireland, because I knew what was coming. When you are up there, there’s only one place you are going to go and you are probably going to get kicked left right and centre and I knew that.
“I have regret; I should have enjoyed it way more. That’s why I enjoyed the League (win). I made a decision at the end of last year. I was getting kicked left right and centre in certain places.”
Fitzgerald added: “I have fantastic people around me in Clare, I love them.
“I have a great bunch of guys that stood by me.
“And you know, I just made up my own mind to stay inside that.
“I can’t do anything about what the media write or what people say. That would have bothered me a lot probably at one stage.
“When I think back on it, Clare wouldn’t have been a historic county (in hurling terms). I’ve been so lucky. I’ve got to play on the biggest days, I’ve got to win on the biggest days and I’ve got to win everything as a manager.
“Dónal Óg actually said to me; ‘boy, you’ve done everything, what are you at?’ I was thinking, let’s enjoy it.”
Next on the agenda for Fitzgerald is another crack at Waterford, the county he managed from 2008-2011.
The stakes are sky-high at Semple Stadium next Sunday with a passage to the Munster final, and the last six of the All-Ireland series, on offer for the winners.
Fitzgerald is predicting another intriguing tactical battle and he’s plotting a way around a midfield ‘cordon’ that he’s identified in the Waterford system.
Fitzgerald admitted Clare wouldn’t normally set up as they did for the two league finals against Sunday’s opponents but said the Déise’s formation effectively forces him them into it.
He explained: “Tactically, it’s probably one of the biggest battles.
“You’re looking every two seconds, how are our match-ups, are they playing that cordon? They have this thing where the play a cordon across the middle of the field, where they’re nearly touching hands.
“I know philosophies are out there: Pep Guardiola feels that if you win at midfield, you win the game. I know they think like that and we would probably be the same.
“Would we naturally set up the way we set up for the last two games? No. But when you have so many bodies across the middle, if we were to leave them loose, they’re going to go point, point, point. They’re a savage team to work a quick pass. I remember watching tapes of them for months, they could have the ball over on this side, four to five passes and they’ll score on the other side.
“They’re so quick at moving it and that’s why it’s crowded. The middle third is everything. It’s like dog eat dog out there, this is nearly wolf on wolf.”
Fitzgerald acknowledged he has a proven game-breaker in Tony Kelly, who fired over two points in stoppage time to settle the league final replay.
“Tony has a licence to do whatever he wants. He’ll go where he feels he can get on the ball. Fair play to him.
“No matter what happens for the rest of the year, nobody can take away from the fact that Clare won their first National League title in 38 years. I take that very seriously.”
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