Roche's Point: Fitz blame game isn't way to win
CLARE hurlers falling at the first Munster championship fence scarcely qualifies as a page one story.
Davy Fitzgerald (right) delivering a post-match media briefing replete with conspiratorial inferences is, by the same yardstick, a scarcely unique news event.
We had more of the above - on both counts - in Thurles last Sunday.
In many ways it was a typical Munster SHC opener between neighbouring foes: a first half pockmarked by myriad mistakes before a dust-up and resultant red card seemed to enliven the contest as the shackles came off. Then we had another sending-off and a late Limerick winner before one final dose of controversy over the amount of injury-time played.
Thus, TJ Ryan's men march on while Clare go off to lick those all-too-familiar early-summer wounds.
It's incredible to think that Clare hurling's greatest era has been followed by another provincial famine. Ger Loughnane's iconoclasts captured three Munster titles and two All-Irelands between '95 and '98 ... but if you start at 2000, Loughnane's swansong, the county has won just four matches in 16 provincial campaigns. And two of those came in the same year (2008) when they lost their only Munster final of this millennium.
However, to dismiss this as merely another barren spell to mimic the 63-year Munster title wasteland between 1932 and '95 would be to ignore the recent context. Clare have won the last three and four of the last six All-Ireland U21 titles. And many of these young tyros climbed the senior summit in September, 2013.
Alarmingly, they haven't won a senior championship tie since that remarkable replay against Cork. Last summer's qualifier stalemate with Wexford was sandwiched by defeats to Cork and Wexford; now they're already staring at another bout of introspection and (they hope) 'back door' redemption.
Davy Fitz managed the latter in spectacular fashion, two years ago, but doubts must be mounting over his ability to repeat the trick.
It's not that Clare are miles off the pace - they lost by a solitary point to a very decent Limerick outfit - but their propensity for controversial sideshows, which flickered last summer and again in the spring, clearly hasn't gone away.
Fitzgerald must shoulder a lot of the flak for this. His combustible presence on the sideline has long been the subject of caricature and won't have abated with those RTÉ images of him following referee Colm Lyons and his officials into the Thurles tunnel.
He may have a valid gripe over the amount of injury-time played (and confused signals surrounding same) ... but a manager who loses his cool in the heat of battle, or one whose post-match interviews are so often laden with innuendo about free counts and the like, is not helping his team in the long run. Especially a team with a worrying addiction to red cards.
With key men to return, Clare should be stronger in the qualifiers. But to replicate 2013, they must look to within instead of always playing the victim.