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The Sidelines Will Be Interesting When Wexford Meet Clare This Year

After a lot of speculation in the Banner county, Clare have found their manager…

This evening, Clare GAA announced the ratification of former Clare full-back Brian Lohan as their new senior hurling manager.

One man who has a very interesting past with Lohan is current Wexford hurling manager, Davy Fitzgerald. Clare’s former goalkeeper. Davy Fitz, was guarded by the big frame of Brian Lohan in the full-back position for over a decade. In Fitzgerald’s autobiography At All Costs, he admitted that for the most part, their relationship on the hurling field seemed like a “telaphatic” one and that there was “a time when he was as close to me as a brother…”

However, as the year’s progressed and once their hurling careers ended, their relationship soured. The decline of a once-friendly relationship where both used to bond over hurling, golf, business and tactics started in 2014, during a Fitzgibbon Cup game between Limerick Institute Technology (LIT) and the University of Limerick (UL).

Fitzgerald was managing the LIT team, while Lohan was the man in charge of the opposing side, a star-studded UL team. Ahead of the game, major bookmakers viewed LIT as ranked outsiders, priced at 6/1 in most places.

“But I had a plan,” Fitzgerald stated in his autobiography.

“And that plan involved taking the gamble of setting up as a straight 15 – something I almost never do – in our final group game against GMIT, a game I knew would be closely watched by ul’s management. And, as we fell over the line that day, everything they saw was a lie. As soon as the players came back into the dressing-room I went straight into quarter-final mode, going through the system and the match-ups I had in mind for UL”

“Now, when you play ul at their place they put you in these tiny cramped dressing-rooms that would make the old Páirc Uí Chaoimh seem palatial. The idea, I suspect, is to split you up. So I knew this was coming and decided we’d only use the rooms at half-time, that we’d go straight from the bus into a warm-up on the pitch.”

“This involved stepping in through bushes at the top end of the field, and as we did so I noticed that, unusually, it was the end ul set out all their training cones on for a warm-up. Straight away, a light bulb went on in my head. We’d reached the field before them, so why not rattle a few cages here? So, sending down the hurley-carriers just to make sure the dressing-rooms would be accessible at half-time, I told everybody else to stay where they were. “Right, we’re warming up here,” I said. “We don’t need any cones!”

“I knew there’d be confrontation and, in many ways, maybe that was my intention. Next thing we had people roaring at us to “F**k off back down to the other end …” but I wouldn’t let us take a backward step. I remember looking into the square at one stage, four goalies on the line, trying to stop shots in a scene of absolute chaos. I knew Brian was fuming but pointedly never made eye contact. That was my message to the whole group: ignore them, keep doing what you’re doing, do not step back a single inch here.”

In Fitzgerald’s head, and as LIT were ranked outsiders, he needed to do something to disrupt UL’s routine and to highlight to his LIT players that they weren’t going to back down today. And they didn’t. LIT won the battle of the space, as the UL team trodded down to the other end of the pitch.

LIT would eventually emerge as five-point winners.

There was no handshake between the pair after the game. There wasn’t a word. Fitzgerald reached out to Lohan a few weeks after, but he insists that Lohan wasn’t interested in speaking to him nor forgetting the past.

“But it soon became clear that Brian wasn’t in any mood for a handshake and fresh start. He told me that he couldn’t accept “some of the stuff” that had gone on in that quarter-final, suggesting that – in his eyes – I’d been personally responsible for the worst of it.”

Fitzgerald explained that once they’re on opposing sides, he’ll do everything in his power to win a battle – to win at all costs as per the book title – and that it’s different with them on opposition sides. “You need to get over this,” Fitzgerald said in a phonecall with Lohan and according to Fitzgerald, “it was at that point he made a comment to me I have no intention of ever repeating…”

In 2015, Fitzgerald took further offence to Lohan’s calls for an independent review of Clare hurling, during a time when Fitzgerald was also managing the team, and just two-years after he successfully led the team to All-Ireland glory.

As Fitzgerald’s father, Pat Fitzgerald, acted and still acts as Clare County Board Secretary, Lohan sought an independent review from Ger Loughnane. An attack on Fitzgerald and his family, it all seeming like a witch-hunt for Fitzgerald.

In 2015, Lohan and Fitzgerald met once again in the Fitzgibbon Cup semi-finals. But, once again, the rekindling of a relationship – or even a handshake – failed to blossom:

“The following year UL beat us in the Fitzgibbon semi-final and I just stood there at the end, waiting to see if he’d come over. Maybe I should have actively sought him out myself, but – again – the day passed without a handshake.”

In September of 2016, despite leading the Banner County to a relatively successful 2015 campaign where they won a National League title first time since 1978, Fitzgerlad stepped away from the Clare management position, after a division emerged in the dressing room.

In October of 2016, Fitzgerald was ratified as Wexford Senior hurling manager, remaining in the position since.

Fast forward three-years later to the 2019 campaign, and the call-outs continued, with Lohan questioning Fitzgerald’s ‘genuine passion’ for the game after he was sent to the stands in Wexford’s Leinster Championship game versus Galway, further stating that “some of his antics are not great…”

Meanwhile, Wexford, who were recently guided to Leinster Championship silverware for their first time since 2004, have become a powerhouse in the hurling world under Fitzgerald’s watchful eye.

The Yellowbellies, who remain under the stewardship of Fitzgerald will meet Brian Lohan’s Clare in Group B of the Allianz Hurling League in the upcoming campaign.

It’ll be interesting to see if the two former team-mates can settle their differences with a handshake on our television screens, or if it’ll increase both managers’ burning desire to win even more.

Either way, with all the previous drama between the pair, it’ll make for an interesting tie and we are sure Fitzgerald will once again, do everything in his power to win the game.

Quotes from Davy Fitzgerald’s autobiography ‘At All Costs’, which was published in October of 2018.

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