Irish Examiner Sports Column July 17 2008

July 20, 2008


It’s 1998… with a few changes

TOMORROW night in Thurles Gerald McCarthy and Ger Loughnane stalk the sidelines once again, while Joe Dooley and Davy Fitzgerald will also cross swords. It’s like 1998 all over again, though without the three priests, late-night Munster Council meetings, pitch occupations by disgruntled fans, and games being whistled up two minutes early.

Well, there’s been none of that so far. It’s only July, remember.

Given the way the chips have fallen for this weekend’s games, that recent RTE documentary, Who Fears To Speak Of ‘98, couldn’t have been more timely. The documentary, which focussed on that never-to-be-
forgotten summer, brought back to vivid life the two Munster hurling
finals of that season, not to mention the disciplinary shenanigans afterwards and the Offaly-Clare marathon.

Back then Ger Loughnane had led a team from the wilderness; nowadays he’s trying to do the same with Galway. The similarities don’t quite align perfectly, however. The Clare model of ‘98 was a battle-hardened group whose fearsome defence backboned their two All-Ireland victories.

This Galway team is a reverse image of that Clare side: spearheaded by Joe Canning but with doubts hanging over the rearguard. That’s not the only difference, of course. Ger Loughnane famously addressed the Banner nation in the middle of the season 10 years ago, but silence has radiated from across the Shannon for most of the year. Who fears to speak in ‘08?

His adversary 10 years ago on the sideline was Gerald McCarthy, then with Waterford. The Déise didn’t quite make it out of the wilderness under McCarthy’s watch, though most observers would credit the foundations he laid as forming the basis for his namesake Justin’s success in collecting three Munster championships and a National league title. Gerald, not Justin, was the manager who introduced the likes of Ken McGrath and John Mullane to senior intercounty hurling, though they fully blossomed under his successor.

Like Ger Loughnane, Gerald McCarthy’s present post is also a neat opposite to the challenges he faced with his former side. Where Waterford were a young team with potential, looking to gain experience of the big occasion, Cork have all the experience you could want, and then some. Several players have three All-Ireland medals, and many have played in four consecutive All-Ireland finals.

The gloom on Leeside at present is presumably based on the fact that none of those players are getting younger, not to mention a laboured victory over Dublin.

In 1998 Gerald McCarthy had a young team who knew there was always tomorrow; for some of his current charges tomorrow may be very close indeed.

The other two managers taking to the sidelines tomorrow night, Joe Dooley of Offaly and Davy Fitzgerald of Waterford, figured prominently in 1998 as well, of course. Dooley
already has a significant scalp this
season, in Limerick, but he too is in
a far different camp compared to a decade ago.

Back then Offaly were a seasoned bunch, dripping with All-Ireland
minor and senior medals, not to
mention a loudly trumpeted reputation as the biggest travelling party in the GAA.

A few weeks ago this reporter saw Dooley emerge from the dressing-rooms in Portlaoise after a trimming by Kilkenny, and the players who came out behind him were as fresh-faced as you’d expect from a senior squad with 12 U-21 players on it.


Dooley has also had to learn how to reverse his thinking, putting aside the
environment he operated in 10 years ago, and dealing with a new reality.

As for the Waterford manager… well, anyone who would have suggested in 1998 that Davy Fitzgerald would become boss of the Déise would have been treated to his or her comrades gathering up their drinks and edging away slowly.

Because the appointment’s been overtaken by other events, it doesn’t make it any less unusual, and if anyone’s had to reverse their thinking, it’s Davy.

Who feared to predict in ‘98?



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