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Once brothers... now strangers

Fitzgerald and Lohan battled for Clare but fued takes centre stage

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Lohan checks on Fitzgerald during a league match in
2005 during their spell as Clare team-mates. Photo: Kieran Clancy / Sportsfile

Lohan checks on Fitzgerald during a league match in 2005 during their spell as Clare team-mates. Photo: Kieran Clancy / Sportsfile

Lohan checks on Fitzgerald during a league match in 2005 during their spell as Clare team-mates. Photo: Kieran Clancy / Sportsfile

Few among the 3,000-strong crowd which attended the 2014 Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-final between UL and city rivals Limerick IT will forget the raucous occasion but no one could have predicted the ramifications that it would have on the relationship between two Clare legends. 

Davy Fitzgerald and Brian Lohan had a telepathy on the pitch during Clare's glory days with the pair central to their All-Ireland successes in 1995 and '97. There was rarely one without the other and their bond was at the heart of the Banner.

They made championship debuts together against Limerick in May of '93 before forging a partnership like no other - they still hold the record of being the only goalkeeper/full-back combination from the same county to claim All-Stars on two occasions.

They stayed in contact after hanging up their hurls with golf outings and some small business dealings seeing their paths cross regularly, but that all changed on Pitch 1 on that feisty February afternoon when they crossed swords on the sideline.

Fitzgerald, who had guided Clare to All-Ireland SHC honours the previous September, manned the line as usual with LIT while Lohan was in charge of a star-studded UL side who were hotly-tipped to go all the way.

LIT were written off in every quarter - despite having reigning Hurler of the Year Tony Kelly in their ranks - but Fitzgerald had plenty of tricks up his sleeve, as he normally does, to make light of their 6/1 underdog tag.

The meme of Homer Simpson disappearing backwards into a hedge was reversed with Fitzgerald bringing his LIT troops, already togged out and stretched before being ferried across the city via bus and deposited on the side of the road, through the trees and onto the pitch.

They came prepared to avoid using the dingy 'away' dressing rooms and made use of the opposition's cones to prepare before a scene similar to the famous 'Mill at the Hill' between Dublin and Mayo in 2006 was recreated when UL emerged with two teams warming up at the one end.

Cyril Farrell, a selector under Fitzgerald that day, recalls "sliotars flying everywhere with 60 lads on top of each other" but he insists that "it just happened off the cuff and we slotted in where we were, it wasn't premeditated, it just happened".

Ruffled

Lohan's feathers were ruffled before the ball was even thrown in but things went from bad to worse for the iconic No 3 as big names like Podge Collins, Johnny Glynn, Jason Forde, Pádraig Walsh, Conor Ryan and Dan Morrissey struggled to raise a gallop.

Kelly fired over 1-10 at the other end to complete a seismic shock and while things bubbled over at various stages, Farrell is adamant that there was no point when anything on or off the pitch crossed the line.

"There was a rope around the pitch and the usual things were happening on the sideline but the two boys never got feisty. When the match is on, all would be fair in love and war and when it's over, it's over," Farrell says.

"There was no focus on Brian Lohan, it was all about winning and it was all about game plans for us."

Fitzgerald basked in one of his most cherished victories but Lohan was "absolutely bulling" and the lack of a post-match handshake was a sign of the deterioration in their relationship - Fitzgerald had described Lohan as "being like a brother" to him - and little could patch up the wounds.

Fitzgerald wrote in his second autobiography, 'At All Costs', about phoning Lohan a few months later as "the silence between us had been playing on my mind and I wanted to put an end to it" but things didn't go to plan.

"It soon became clear that Brian wasn't in any mood for a handshake and a 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 revealed.

"My response was, "Brian, my job is to win for LIT. I've to do what I have to do, just as you have to do what you have to do for UL. You know me long enough, you know I'd do anything for you. But when we're on opposite sides in a game, it's war. It has to be. You need to get over this."

Fitzgerald added that "it was at that point he made a comment to me I have no intention of ever repeating" and the two departed on worse terms than before the phone call had been made. Relations would become even more strained following Clare's qualifier exit to Cork in 2015.

Lohan called for "an independent review" of the performances of the county's hurling landscape which Fitzgerald took both as a direct swipe at him and his efforts as manager as well as his father, long-standing county secretary Pat Fitzgerald.

An angry text was fired Lohan's way. "'What are you at?' I asked in the text. 'Do you not think I'm getting enough stick without you jumping on the bandwagon?' His response was incredible. 'The Review will help you' he said," Fitzgerald wrote.

"My reply to that was pretty strong, and I won't repeat it. But I basically told Brian what I thought of him. To me, I should have been getting more loyalty from these guys, but I was getting none. On the contrary, I just got the impression they were determined to undermine me."

Attempts were made by a mutual friend to smooth over their problems not long after Lohan was announced as Clare boss last winter but that ship had sailed despite the likelihood of them butting horns on the sideline again at inter-county level.

That became reality last February and there was no handshake when Lohan's Clare took two points from their League clash against Fitzgerald's Wexford side and it seemed like destiny that they would collide before Monday's Qualifier draw.

There will be no handshakes this Saturday amid Covid-19 - there's unlikely to be any fist bumps either - with their championship survival hanging by a thread as Davy not only locks horns with his former enforcer, but his native county and many of the faces that helped him to reach the promised land seven years ago.

It adds even more intrigue for hurling fanatics, much like the public falling out between soccer icons Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane or basketballers Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but there's also something quite sad about the whole saga.

Fitzgerald and Lohan were once brothers but as the lyrics of Gotye's smash hit go "Now you're just somebody that I used to know" and they are essentially strangers despite being intrinsically linked with Clare's golden age.

Maturity

Anniversaries and functions will come and go celebrating their extraordinary achievements and Farrell believes the pair need to show some maturity in the current climate and let bygones be bygones, much like fences were mended with Tim Crowe which allowed the two to combine for Sixmilebridge's back-to-back Clare SHC titles with Crowe as manager and Fitzgerald as coach.

"You'd be best friends now with lads that were trying to kill each other during their county days, you'd kill to win against lads from other counties so it's disappointing that two lads who soldiered together for Clare don't seem to get on," Farrell says.

"Maybe with Covid lads will realise that hurling is only a game, it's part of life but it isn't life and there are bigger things than hurling. The two of them are big enough now, they'll have to get together over Christmas.

"I think both of them will. Deep down they're both Clare men, they won All-Irelands together. They had big wins together and harsh defeats together. You swim together, you sink together and they will see the bigger picture in time."

That is for another day, though, and all bets are off this Saturday with the stakes meaning that no prisoners will be taken in order to survive.


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