Whenever an inter-county team manager, and particularly an All-Ireland winning one, make public utterances he can expect headlines, writes Nickey Brennan.
Last week’s comments from the Clare manager, Davy Fitzgerald regarding an attitude in the Clare squad around drink and drugs generated major headlines. The comments, understandably, drew a mixed reaction.
Davy’s comments related specifically to his experiences in Clare. Some questioned the validity of what he said, but when former Clare manager, Mike McNamara, supported the views we have to accept that they were authentic.
It is important to consider Fitzgerald’s comments in the context of the audience he was addressing. The Clare man has been associated with LIT for years coaching the college teams, including successful Fitzgibbon Cup sides in 2005 and 2007.
His work with LIT was recognised recently when he was accorded a Fellowship in the college. When LIT wanted someone to speak to its students about their life challenges, it was no surprise that Fitzgerald was asked. He is highly regarded by the college President, Dr Maria Hinfelaar and the college authorities.
When Fitzgerald speaks he tells things as he sees them. Holding back is not an option. Maybe now and again he can be a little coy when facing the TV cameras but, more often than not, we see a passionate man.
I was a little bemused to read that Fitzgerald was surprised his comments were recorded. He of all people should know the power of the Smart Phone as I am sure he recalls his dressing room speech of some years ago which hit the You Tube circuit and was viewed far and wide.
In making the comments to the LIT students Davy Fitzgerald did the GAA and the country in general a great service. There is a drugs culture in the country. If people believe that some GAA players are not dabbling in various forms of narcotics, at least occasionally, then they are in a state of denial.
The GAA drug testing programme is ensuring that the problem does not exist at inter-county level. I know many people have criticised the drug-testing programme, but the proof of its success is that only one case has come to light since it commenced. In that instance a player over-used an inhaler and was exonerated.
With no drug testing at club level it is impossible to gauge the extent of the problem. There are issues but my view is that while it is not a major problem, nevertheless, clubs should not become complacent.
The drink culture is an altogether different matter. The professionalism associated with the preparation of inter-county teams leaves little scope for players at this level to over-indulge
It is a different story at club level. Again, it would be unfair to paint every club or every player with the same brush. Many club players show the same commitment and dedication as their inter-county counterparts.
But the reality is that it is a lot more difficult to get the necessary level of commitment from every club player and that will, ultimately, determine how well a team performs during the season. To perform to the optimum players have to make sacrifices. That inevitably means curtailing one’s social life in a manner that matches the efforts on the training pitch. For some players that is too difficult.
For years the GAA has operated an ASAP programme which provides advice on the difficulties associated with alcohol and substance abuse. Former Leitrim inter-county footballer, Colin Regan, heads up the programme in Croke Park with each county and club having its own ASAP Officer.
That programme was created because there was evidence that problems existed at club level. The ASAP programme continues to play an important role in educating young people. Davy Fitzgerald ruffled a few feathers in Clare, but I have no doubt his audience in LIT will have listened attentively.
And what is most important, those words from Davy are very likely to have been heeded by many of his young audience. On this occasion Fitzgerald’s views were timely and appropriate.