The name Davy Fitzgerald is synonymous with great hurling and in later year’s successful management, “but to me, he was one of the greatest goalkeepers to ever play the game”.
So states Donal Óg Cusack, another outstanding goalkeeper from Cork. This quote comes from a new book ‘At All Costs’, which is ghosted by well-known sports journalist Vincent Hogan. He takes us through the ups and downs of a great player who won two All-Ireland hurling titles with his native Clare and in his retirement he went on to manage his native county to All-Ireland glory.
It wasn’t all plain sailing as he reveals his battles with ill health; he survived two heart attacks and also bouts of depression. He was also bullied in school and this bothered him, but the hurling saved him. He is a volatile and spirited character and this is very evident in his book which tells it warts and all.
“But it is fair to say that I was a coiled spring most of the time,” he readily admits. Little wonder, then, that he was embroiled in several controversies. He got into trouble with referees. “Again maybe I’d have been better advised to say nothing, but my head was stewing.” He defended his players when he was managing teams. “I had zero sympathy for the difficulty of the referee’s job. If I felt my team had been wronged I’d go to war almost in reflex.”
Proving people wrong
“There’s something in my psychological make-up that means I’m hopelessly drawn towards proving people wrong – it is how I am wired.”
Successful as he was in goal, sparks invariably flew. He saw no danger between the posts and he saved some miraculous shots. Who can ever forget his forays up field when a penalty was awarded to Clare? And it was often a very successful mission as his piledrivers made the opposition’s nets, raising those match-turning and match-winning green flags.
“I adore the trump of the underdog and I can’t think of anything better in sport or in life than somebody defying the odds. I see something of myself in the underdog. If anything I have too much belief in my own ability. It’s something that rubs people up the wrong way. I recognise that.”
He loves to see people “step outside their comfort zone and achieving”. That is exactly what he does in his life as a player and as a manager. “I have never been motivated by medals. The human story is what drives me on. Medals are the bonus.”
His bravery between the posts for club and county underlies the graphic account of his exploits including the Club Championship semi-final against Crusheen when a forward pulled high and the result for Davy was “looking down at my left hand and I could see part of my fourth finger hanging off. Instinctively I reached down to try to reconnect it”.
What is very clear from the book is that as a manager he commanded fierce loyalty and he was a real players’ man, defending and supporting them through all their travails. He was often in controversy with the Clare County Board and even though he delivered an All-Ireland, that was not a recipe for calmness. The day came when he was forced out of the job as manager of Clare. The media gave him a tough time and so did the County Board.
What made it more difficult was that his father was secretary of the County Board. The charge of nepotism was on the lips of many and Ger Loughnane, his former playing partner with the Banner, was loud in his criticism of Davy, calling for his resignation as Clare boss.
Fr Harry Bohan was very appreciating of what Davy had done both as a player and as a manager with Clare but even that wasn’t enough to save him. Davy says he never took a cent from the Supporters Club. He got dogs’ abuse for using the short puck out game but he soldiered on as he believed it suited the Clare team that he had.
His training method was very demanding on his players and he tells of the bonding session which had them sliding down the Devil’s Ladder in Carrantuohill in the dark. Savage stuff. He had the dilemma with Podge Collins who declared that he wanted to play football and hurling with Clare and that did not sit easily with Davy. This was compounded when Colm Collins, Podge’s father, was appointed as manager of the Clare football team shortly after Clare winning the All-Ireland hurling title. More trouble.
One of the great occasions for Davy was when he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from LIT for his successful work preparing the college team for the Fitzgibbon Cup.
Davy Fitzgerald bares his heart and soul to Vincent Hogan who presents this spirited soul to its readers. It is a great read, from his time as a player and later as a manager with Clare, Waterford and his present role as manager of Wexford.
Davy’s sentiments on the dust cover tell a lot.
“I’m a bad loser. That’s not something I can hide. Most competitive people are. Bad days can come close to poisoning you. There have been occasions when I’ve taken defeat too personally and, maybe, it’s left me looking petty and ungracious. I suppose I’m learning that all the time. But this game, this game of hurling puts life in us that I hope I never lose.”
The book is on sale now in Easons Killarney.