The pitting of Waterford against Clare in both the 2010 Munster hurling and football championships has focused followers’ attentions on where exactly their teams are at.
Nothing ever seems sweetness and light in Bannerland and the Clare hurlers are agitating for change, with Tuesday night’s county board meeting due to discuss, if not affect, Mike McNamara’s position as hurling manager. The players want rid of the man they call ‘The Animal’, while Ger Loughnane’s old lieutenant intends to stick at it.
According to the Sunday Times’ Christy O’Connor, who as a former goalkeeping understudy to Davy Fitzgerald is clearly clued in on all things Clare, there had been talk that Fitzy might team up with Mike Mac as a coach, and then take over the reins himself the following season. The likelihood now, as O’Connor sees it, is that Davy has decided to stick with Waterford for one more year before taking up the job he clearly craves back home, especially with the All-Ireland-winning Under-21s set to give the county a much-needed injection of youthful flair – though being handicapped by Division 2 League hurling won’t make the immediate rebuilding job any easier.
But if all that’s the case, is it good enough from Waterford’s viewpoint? Surely there needs to be a long-term strategy for the development of the senior set-up, to bring through the young players who caused such a stir at Minor and U21 level this year and create consistency.
It seems like Waterford have been going along season-by-season for years. Justin McCarthy’s last few campaigns were all effectively add-ons at convention, with no-one knowing if the Corkman was staying or going until each October came around.
That trend continue after he left, his “unfinished business” unfortunately incomplete (and getting Cork or Tipp in next year’s Munster semi-final was a right bad draw for the under-pressure Limerick coach). Davy came in initially on a deal until the end of the 2008 championship. Then, after the usual uncertainty, amid rumours that he might be off to Dublin, he agreed a two-year term.
However, he was non-committal after the first full year ended with the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kilkenny last August. His two selectors, as well as fitness expert Gerry Fitzpatrick, then stepped down, followed by Fitzgerald’s heart surgery: a combination of circumstances that might have suggested an amicable parting of the ways was apt.
However, Davy revealed on the day of the drawn County Final that he’d been talking to county chairman Pat Flynn only that week as regards putting a new backroom team in place. Presumably there’s been plenty happening behind the scenes since then.
Waterford people want the county team to be successful more than anything and this column is no different. But there’s no point pretending that every member of last year’s panel is pleased that the status quo is to continue. The pups, never mind the proverbial dogs on the street know that quite a few of them are not and, while you can’t have the team dictating who picks it, in the GAA’s modern incarnation the players increasingly call the shots. Heads were buried in the months before Justin was pushed, remember. At the very least a collective clear-the-air is called for.
Fitzgerald probably feels he has the force of personality to withstand whatever resistance is there to his methods and man-management, and that the players’ pride will overcome any underlying tensions. He knows they’re not a million miles off Kilkenny or Tipp, but if Waterford are to stand a chance of finally pulling off what shouldn’t be an impossible dream they need to have every single factor working in their favour. And a manager with a long-term vision of, and commitment to, where we’re going, not just himself, would be a good foundation. 2010 should be seen as the start of something, not a stopgap.
Footnote: In the football, if John Owens’ new charges can overcome Clare they’ll play Limerick in the provincial semi-final. Two Waterford teams in Munster deciders in both codes in the same year: now when did that happen before? Also, while the Nire or Stradbally won’t be looking beyond this Sunday, and I wouldn’t discount a draw, whoever wins the 2009 Conway Cup will have the added incentive of playing either Kilmurry-Ibrickane (Clare) or Dromcollogher/Broadford (Limerick) in a Munster semi on November 22.