Before I led the Clarecastle team out at half-time of yesterday’s Clare county final, to collect our 25-year anniversary plaques, somebody handed me the 1994 county final programme. We beat a young St Joseph’s Doora-Barefield team that afternoon and, as I scanned the teams, Ger Hoey’s name jumped out at me.
Ger was the spiritual leader of that young St Joseph’s team. Of all the players who took the field that day, Ger was probably the fittest and healthiest but he sadly passed away at the age of 40 10 years ago. I thought of the Hoey family yesterday but the occasion also reminded me of how lucky we are as a group that every one of us are still together.
We were raging hot favourites to win that county final but Joseph’s pushed us to the wire.
Still, we got the job done and that’s what county finals are all about. The sports psychologist Liam Moggan has a great saying that you rarely see world records broken in Olympic finals. It’s about being solid and consistent, never panicking, and, in fairness to Sixmilebridge, they always are in county finals.
That St Joseph’s team went on to beat the ‘Bridge in two county finals but they rarely lose on the big day in Clare. We never beat them in a final and Cratloe never looked like doing so either once the ‘Bridge got a grip on the match.
Cratloe did have three goal chances but Derek Fahy made two good saves. One of those may have made a difference to the outcome but, overall, the best team certainly won. All their big guns performed but everyone did their job effectively. It was fitting too that Niall Gilligan came off the bench to win his seventh county medal.
The ‘Bridge are a great club but you have to give huge credit to Paddy Meehan, the club chairman, for piecing this success together. Davy Fitz and Tim Crowe hadn’t spoken since 2007 — after the fallout from the Tony Considine-Fitzy affair — but Paddy got the two of them working together.
It’s another big feather in Davy’s cap because it’s some achievement to manage Wexford to a Leinster title, and the ‘Bridge to a county title, in the same season. It’s can’t have been easy to combine the two but they clearly overlapped too because you could see the Wexford stamp all over yesterday’s performance.
It’s another huge disappointment for Cratloe, who lost successive finals and a fourth in 10 seasons. Similar to last year, they lost a county football semi-final a week before the hurling final and the signs were clear again; Cratloe looked leggy; their touch was coarse; their timing was off.
Their big guns up front were silenced by the ‘Bridge’s system. The injury to Conor McGrath was a huge turning point but Sixmilebridge were still always that step ahead.
It was a decent county final but it was also a welcome distraction to the sideshow around appointing a senior manager over the last week.
The whole episode has been a sham and an embarrassment from day one. For a start, Donal Moloney was treated disgracefully. If the board didn’t want Donal to stay on, fine, but why didn’t they tell the man three months ago, besides stringing him along while he was expending time and energy in putting his backroom team together?
The process around deciding the manager last week, which the board thought the clubs would accept on Tuesday night, defied all logic. Imagine interviewing candidates and not asking them the make-up of their backroom teams? Like, what did they ask them? What are your hobbies? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? You wouldn’t get it in Killinascully.
I think Brian Lohan would be an excellent choice as manager. Along with his huge status within the county, he would be a fresh voice and it would represent something new. Louis Mulqueen has already been involved with Clare senior teams on three occasions.
Lohan wouldn’t bring any of that baggage and I, along with the vast majority of hurling people within the county, would fully support his appointment. My name was mentioned from the floor as being part of Brian’s management team but I don’t why that happened. It was never a runner and I won’t be involved, which is a point I want to clarify here.
It’s not that I’m turning my back on Clare but, after nine years spent as an inter-county manager with Clare and Dublin between 2004-’14, it’s just not something that I’m focussed on at this stage of my life.
I was contacted by Joe Cooney, the county board chairman, about six weeks ago, to ask me about making a contribution to a review of Clare’s hurling season. I outlined to him that I had no interest in getting involved in inter-county management at this time. If circumstances were different in the future, I may be willing to return to Clare, but not at the moment.
There are a multitude of reasons but I’m also unsure if I could work with a number of top board officials in the county. The culture is all wrong and that looked set to continue on Tuesday when the board were sure that they could railroad through the appointment of Mulqueen. The process was all wrong. There was no transparency and I’m just glad the board delegates finally had the guts to stand up to the executive and loudly say ‘No’.
In these situations, the aim should always be to get the best man for the job, with the best backroom team, and not just to get the person favoured by the board executive.
It’s only fair on the candidates but it’s also what the players fully deserve. The players must be exasperated by this stage because they seemed to be as much in the dark as anyone else. I know a number of players had met with Cooney but they clearly weren’t happy with how the process was handled.
That frustration was evident from their recent statement, which ranged from Donal’s treatment to the ridiculous state of our supposed ‘Centre-of-Excellence’ in Caherlohan. Some of the players allegedly painted part of the place last year. It’s a joke.
You hear stories of Strength and Conditioning coaches arriving at Caherlohan at 6.30pm to set up for training and the gates still locked by 6.45. I witnessed that lack of foresight myself first hand, albeit from a distance, when I was with the Limerick underage Academy.
In my last year involved in 2017, we — the Limerick minors — had a slot from 8-9pm on the Astroturf pitch at the North Campus in UL during the late winter, early spring.
As soon as we finished, the Clare team would take up their slot from 9-10.30pm. Once the session was over, guys would be shovelling food down their throats and getting into cars at 11pm to head in different directions. A couple of lads were driving to Dublin.
That wasn’t the management’s fault but that complete mismanagement and lack of leadership from the board is just not good enough. It’s gone on too long. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next but at least the winds of change seem to be blowing in a different direction after last Tuesday night.
And it’s about time they ushered in more change than just a new manager.