FROM ear to ear it went, but then that’s as far as a smile can go.
Davy Fitzgerald had just won the All-Ireland semi-final against Limerick and was finally letting his satisfaction hang out after holding a straight face all day.
His curt answers to Ger Canning in the pre-match were as unusual as they were brief.
The Clare boss used a grand total of 87 words to straight bat five questions back at the RTE man, holding back his opinion with each answer.
In summary: “We’re ready to go yeah, Ger…. Our only objective today is to beat Limerick… we’re going to go out and give it everything we have… John Allen can say what he wants; we have our focus, that’s it.”
Are you going to win, Davy? “Yes,” Fitzgerald replied, holding a semi-comical stare on Canning as he marched off.
His subsequent post-match interview on the same station gave much rounder answers but he remained stony-faced for the most part, save the odd smile cracking out.
The dam broke once he entered the press conference area moment afterwards — a seated Fitzgerald kept his head down for much of the opening exchanges, but he was beaming. The joy, it seemed, was too much to contain.
He dealt with the questions, ploughed through his answers, and spoke of how there had been a hint of the mid-90s to the atmosphere building in the county in the week leading up to the win over Limerick, which he expected to grow.
Ahead of the final, there would be some bits of media that they <open itals> had <close itals> to do and that would be fine.
As it turned out, it wasn’t. Well, not fully anyway.
Fitzgerald, the manager of a team heading into its first senior All-Ireland final in 12 years, was a big draw but was nowhere to be seen; and this was a first for the boss man to be absent ahead of the biggest game in the sport.
Just four days after winning their semi-final, this was the earliest ever All-Ireland final county press event with 18 days still to go before their meeting with Cork.
For their part, the Rebels held a press event the day after but Jimmy Barry-Murphy spoke to anyone who asked, and for over an hour and a half. If this final was to be won via PR, there would be no need to show up on the day.
You have to wonder at times whether Davy Fitz has not only used a siege mentality to his benefit, but if he has actually created it out of nothing.
There were no knives out for the Banner but he has so often acted as if he and his brigade have been taking flak.
“Have we taken a lot of stick over the last year and a half?” he asked himself in front of the media after beating Limerick.
The question put to him, by the way, was where does this victory rank for him and this came as part of his reply. “We all have [taken stick], but they kept coming back and it’s so nice when you know that when you ask them to do something, they’ll do it.
“And even though you get a beating — and I can remember a beating we got this year, and I might tell you again exactly what happened the day after, it was very interesting but unreal, but that’s for another day — but they were so mature out there today.”
Fitzgerald was queried if that beating referred to a heavy loss against Tipperary in the final regulation game of the league, after which plenty of pundits suggested his young team succumbed to too many games in a short period, but he said it was not.
And as for that story being for “another day”, that was not to be the press night because of his no-show.
Of course, he’s just following the lead of other counties.
Dublin had their press day on the eve of Cork v Kilkenny, presumably so that no questions could be asked about the opposition without “we don’t know who we’ll be playing/don’t mind who it is/all about getting ourselves ready” smacking a journalist about the ears.
You can understand that a manager wants to keep exposure low and keep the panel’s talking heads on mute. After all, why would you want to put a target on your back? You wouldn’t, and we understand that.
The shame is that not all journalists are out there to spin a line, or hang a player out to dry.
But the disconnect between players and the public is widening ahead of this All-Ireland final, and that’s a shame.
Donal Óg Cusack wrote a column recently which put much of the blame at the door of the media, but he could have shared it out a little.
After all, Donegal manager Jim McGuinness used his post-match press conference after last year’s All-Ireland final as a means of grinding an axe with a journalist, whom he had ejected from the auditorium. Instead of that being a moment of joy, it was sullied.
Talk about putting a rod on your back.
Instead of this All-Ireland hurling final being about the players, it’s been about keeping them away from the public, and that might have an effect in the long run.
We don’t know the personalities and that’s why GAA has become about the managers.
The battles are pitted as such, hence why Davy Fitz apparently won the tactical battle against Allen in the semi-final … hands down. That’s all that was worth talking about to so many after the game.
Now the wits of Barry-Murphy and Fitzgerald are set to collide — who will come out on smiling? That’s the big question.