Yesterday morning in Dublin’s Clyde Court Hotel, Davy Fitzgerald sat down with a handful of journalists to discuss Clare’s triumph. So frank and revealing were his words over those 18 minutes or so, we’ve run the transcript of the interview almost in its entirety.
Question: What does it feel like this morning?
Davy Fitzgerald: “I suppose it still has not sunk in, but it is one of immense satisfaction. I am still the same. I am still so thrilled for the lads. I didn’t touch a drop (of alcohol) because I just wanted to soak in the atmosphere and just watched the rest of them and to see them the way they were is fantastic because they have had some tough times. In fairness, we won a lot of our matches but the public heaped expectation, which is tough, when we lost games and we expect a lot of ourselves so just to see them the way they were last night was brilliant.”
Q: The team shipped some criticism within the county?
Davy Fitz: “I didn’t understand that. They could see the talent, but we had a talented team in 2009 and we didn’t win anything. Limerick won three U21s in-a-row and did not win anything. The transition is unreal to go from U21 up to senior. Don’t anyone tell me that because you have won U21s that you are going to win senior. The big thing for us was that we were able to have so many U21s in our panel, so that we had control of them and we could what we wanted to do. The style of play that we have adopted in the last year and a half has helped because we did not have that style of play in Clare and we had not won any All-Ireland medals at minor level so I am delighted the way things worked out.”
Q: Clare played a more mixed style yesterday?
Davy Fitz: “It is short when it needs to be short, that is the thing. To be able to do that… I look back at some of yesterday’s game and I was amazed at the way they threw the ball around. We threw the ball around yesterday under pressure and it was unreal but Cork did the same thing, but that is Cork and that is what they are used to.”
Q: Did you personally pay a price for taking heat off your players?
Davy Fitz: “People have their opinion no matter what but that is my job. My job is to make sure that they are protected, that is what I am here for. There are so many young lads but with most of the teams that I am with, I will try and do that. I don’t read the newspapers, I had a look at them this morning, but I don’t read them because I want to stay focused. I have a lad who reads them and if there is anything there that he is not happy with he tells me. I try to stay in my own little bubble and I know that I say stuff but you are trying to deflect attention. The way I look at it is, okay, you can say it, deflect away the attention but stay focused on what has to be done. It doesn’t matter. That is what I do.”
Q: Some of the personal stuff, does it hurt?
Davy Fitz: “I have been told that there have been a few people who have said x, y and z. I can guarantee you that none of them know me or know what I am like. Trust me, I have seen the best managers in the game absolutely devour referees. I would be fairly certain that some of the referees wouldn’t have any time for me. I am fairly certain of that.”
Q: Has that hurt Clare – even yesterday?
Davy Fitz: “It certainly does not help. But what do I do? If I feel strongly about a decision I will argue it and you are trying your best to bite your lip but if you feel strongly about it you are going to say it. I have seen the best do it, I have seen Brian Cody argue unreal. He might not get as animated as me but he is able to get his decision across as well.”
Q: Do you think that is important for a manager?
Davy Fitz: “Some people don’t, I do. I won’t say why I do but let’s just say... I won’t say it because I just know at certain times it does work but if I see something I am not making up stuff. There was two or three frees there (on Saturday), and you didn’t need me (to know it was wrong). You could hear the crowd the way they were. I did not knock the referee after the first one, I didn’t need to do it. Everyone else around the county had their say about it, I am not going to knock the referee the first day or yesterday. My God, we had to work extremely hard to get over the line.”
Q: This makes a change from the heckles in Cusack Park following the defeat to Waterford in February when your style was criticised.
Davy Fitz: “That’s what makes it more satisfying now. It’s funny, you have so many fellas coming out saying they changed Clare hurling. I think it’s fucking great. I’m looking back six months ago, there wasn’t too many of them saying they had anything to do with Clare hurling. It’s just that I was destroying it. The one thing I’m happy about personally is that I had a belief and I didn’t waiver when it was, trust me, easy to waiver. The difference in waking up this morning and the difference in waking up after the Waterford league game, after the Tipperary league game. I would take things very personally and I would not be in a good spot after we lose them. I go home and I’m not a good person to be around. I take it to heart something wicked and I’d wake up the next morning and as a Clare man I took that massive to heart, them defeats. When you’re getting absolutely slaughtered at the same time it doesn’t help. You don’t want to go down to the shop, you don’t want to go any place. No matter what criticism you’re getting you’re feeling so bad yourself. My whole dream was to see Clare being successful. We had a great team in the 70s that I supported as a young boy. I loved going to watch them guys. That’s what made me love Clare hurling. My only thing was that I wanted to make a difference in Clare if I could and just get Clare to be successful. I would fight on my back if I believe in something. Some people like it, some people don’t. I just have to deal with that. It isn’t easy, you want everyone to like you but it’s not going to work. I’d like to think I have a good heart in me but everyone isn’t going to like you.
Q: Unlike previous defeats, you didn’t go to ground the Monday after the Munster semi-final loss.
Davy Fitz: “I didn’t probably feel as bad after the Cork semi-final would you believe. Everyone was down and I asked the boys to come back to my house which was probably different to any manager...
Q: What was behind that?
Davy Fitz: “I wanted to show them that they’re like my family. I said it to them, people who are special to me come into my front sitting room and sit down and spend time with me. We spent three hours in my front sitting room that night and we had an unbelievable chat. There was no throwing stones. You would not believe it, the whole of my sitting room, I had the forwards at one end and I had the backs and I got them a bit of paper and said, ‘Write down what you think’. Then we talked out the points in the sitting room. I was trying to think to myself afterwards, this is unreal.
Q: How many?
Davy Fitz: “The 19 players that played that day, I brought them to the room.
Q: Didn’t bring any of the others?
Davy Fitz: “No, I just wanted the fellas that were on the field that day to find out... I did it for two reasons, I wanted to find out what was in their heads and I wanted to kill it there and then and get back on the horse and go again. And I wanted them to see how much they meant to me. It was an unreal experience, even for me.
“I remember going down the street and buying the Mi Wadi orange and biscuits and all that and having them on the table when they came in and if Joe O’Connor, our sports scientist, knew I did that he’d be cracking with me.”
Q: All the trigger points come against Cork this year? Relegation final, etc.
Davy Fitz: “I’ll tell you a good one now. About a week before the relegation final I was sitting down at home with my dad (county secretary Pat), the week before it. We had beaten Cork in the Waterford Crystal and in the league and I said, ‘We have the relegation final, we have the Championship, I don’t fucking think we can win the two of them’. And that’s a fact. And he said to me, ‘I think we need to stay in one (Division 1A),’ he said, ‘and I think we’ll get another chance at the Championship’. That was my feeling myself and that was genuine, even though we could have won the semi-final I felt that if we beat Cork in the relegation (final) they were going to come out like absolute men possessed in the semi-final and I knew it was going to be hard but to win the relegation was a massive thing for us as a team.”
Q: For your long term development as well?
Davy Fitz: “The county went a bit mad. They all went to Limerick, there was a good Clare crowd there that day and I remember Louis Mulqueen said to me afterwards that this lady came down and threw a (match) programme at him and hit him in the face and said you can take your short game and shove it where the sun don’t shine. I was walking down after the interviews and I was getting absolutely dogged. The one thing I kept saying to the lads all year: ‘don’t let that feeling leave you, keep that feeling’. I will keep that feeling with me because that’s what makes me, always grounds me and brings me back. Listen, a pat in the back and a kick in the arse there is nothing in it. I’m the same person today as I was last week. That’s how I look at it.”
Q: Did you come away from the Mi Wadi party feeling it was therapeutic?
Davy Fitz: “I knew it felt good. I don’t know if any year will ever be the same as this year with those guys. Obviously, as a manager you are going to make tough decisions with some lads I dropped earlier in the year. Trust me, there were a few really good lads let go at the start of this year. Lads who didn’t play this year like Conor Cooney, Jonathan Clancy — they have played for years. Fergal Lynch. And I want to say this publicly, Fergal Lynch gets a doing in Clare from supporters that is so unjust and so unfair. They do not realise his value to the Clare team. Fergal Lynch is so, so, so immense. As a leader, the boys adore him. He gets them going when he comes on the team and changes them again. He is a super guy. People are wrong. Fergal Lynch is a special guy and deserves a lot of singling out. As I said for the other two guys, Conor and John, they played for Clare for years, Donal Tuohy they’ve been left on the sideline. And is it hard. Will I keep 37 lads happy? No. I’m sure there are five or six who feel they should be playing but I’m sure every manager in the country accepts that is going to be the way.”
Q: You were the only candidate when you took the job. What does that say to you?
Davy Fitz: “I don’t think people wanted to take on the challenge, they were after being beaten by Galway very convincingly a few years ago. In my view Sparrow (Ger O’Loughlin) had started the process. I believe there was an awful weeding out, our culture in Clare for a while was not good. I believe we didn’t mind ourselves and I said that to the players, I don’t believe we got the best out of ourselves in the mid 2000s. You can’t be a social animal and hope to play well. I think, in fairness, Mike Mac and them and Considine had his time and fair play to them all, I’m not going to knock anyone no matter how I feel. Everyone did their best. Sparrow had the toughest job, Mike Mac did well getting to a Munster final, Sparrow came in and he had to start from scratch.”
Q: You talk of social animals but this is life-changing for a very young team?
Davy Fitz: “They are good lads. We have a code, if I am in charge next year you will stick by the code, you will not break it. We have principles and I would like to think that we will stick by the principles. After the first All-Ireland (game), I will let them out and enjoy themselves for the night. Every now and again, they are allowed to let the hair down as long as they conduct themselves in a proper manner. That is very important to us because they are role models for a lot of kids and I want them to be that way. They are really nice guys and I want to make sure...I’ll keep reminding them of the tough days.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved