Anthony Daly: Banner and the blues need a bounce
Daly: Davy Fitz craves win to stop the 'silly talk' while Cunningham is 'dead right' to juggle Dublin options
TWO teams in need of a performance rebound will be bouncing off each other in Ennis this Saturday (3.0), with Anthony Daly perhaps the nearest available option to a 'neutral' referee.
After all, he has lifted Liam MacCarthy for Clare - twice - and managed them for three seasons. He has also, of course, led Dublin for six.
"Look, I'm a Clareman," Daly clarifies, speaking to The Herald. "I'd have an awful soft spot for Dublin hurling all my life, and I absolutely loved my time there and loved the lads - but ultimately, my three girls will be going in wearing the Clare jersey on Saturday. That's the bottom line, I guess."
The other bottom line is that Clare are pointless after three rounds of the Allianz Hurling League; even a brace of wins over Dublin and Kilkenny mightn't save them from a Division 1A relegation play-off.
But Davy Fitzgerald and his players crave victory for more than the two points on offer. They want to stave off the snipers who have been debating, with increasing noise, a run of six defeats and one draw dating back to their last win - a Division One quarter-final against Laois at the end of March, 2014.
On Saturday, though, the All-Ireland champions of 2013 host a Dublin team needing victory almost as much - as a riposte to the shock concession of 34 points against Cork.
Given all the recent flak, Daly reckons it probably helps that his old comrade, Davy Fitz, is "fairly thick-skinned". He remains bemused by some of the more strident criticism, adding: "We won three All-Irelands since the War; he kept goal for two of them and managed the third one. He owes Clare hurling nothing."
But what's the key requirement this weekend: performance or result?
"I think a win is probably their priority," Daly ventures. "If he could eke out a result is stops all this silly talk - in lots of ways - about 'no win'. I know it's factual, but ... how many matches are in a year?"
He continues: "Dublin have had two good wins against Tipp and Kilkenny, albeit with a bit of a flop on Saturday night, but they're going well and second in the league. If Clare could win the match, they'd be walking out saying: 'We stopped that rot anyway.' That's been bandied around by every Tom, Dick and Harry for the last two to three days.
"A trait with this Dublin team, for want of a better word, is their bounce-back-ability. They usually rise up after a flat day ... Davy will realise that."
While accepting the bona fides of some Clare folk who have been quick to criticise, Daly adds: "Some of it has been silly, to my mind. I remember the very same guys around 2013, early on in the year, and this short ball was ridiculed ... and sure, we were the best team since sliced pan after the replayed final against Cork."
For all that, Fitzgerald will "know it's not good enough either. Bottom of the table and looking like a relegation final - that's the last thing they'll have set out to be doing this year, and I would have said winning the league would have been no harm for Clare. It is what it is.
"Not an easy time, I'd say, if you're a manager. You are anxious and it's a real tester - to be steely on the line. If you have a lack of confidence or a bit of panic, the players sense that and they'll play like that.
"That is the challenge both for Ger (Cunningham) and Davy - to show good leadership - and two more experienced men you won't find."
Daly was in the Dublin hotseat for the six years prior to Cunningham's arrival. He was surprised to see Dublin so far off the pace (and their men) against Cork, while their poor "shot efficiency" had echoes of his own tenure.
Yet, as the manager who introduced Liam Rushe to the senior stage at full-forward (in 2009) and reprised the role in 2013, he is not about to question the recent relocation of the two-time All Star to No 14. Or Michael Carton's recasting at No 3, for that matter.
"You're dead right to try things. We tried Mikey full-back as well - it was (against) Shane O'Donnell for Clare in a challenge match, and I think he had a couple of goals got at half-time and I was looking at Mikey, Mickey was looking at me, 'Take me out of here!'
"Mikey made a fantastic fist of the first two games, and I felt a bit sorry for him Saturday - he didn't get too much cover from the ball coming in," Daly points out. "I always felt that Mikey had the attributes to play there.
"Rushey has certainly looked dangerous. What was interesting was, after the Kilkenny game - while he didn't score, Paul Murphy was picked back in the corner for Kilkenny (last weekend). He will cause problems. You saw by the goal he got on Saturday night.
"If you can get the right supply of ball to him, he will win a certain amount of ball and he's clever enough to get a finish like he did the other night. But, is the need for him somewhere else? I don't know - that will be for the boys to decide."