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ABLOW aimed at Clare senior goalkeeper David Fitzgerald by a Tipperary substitute is thought to have triggered the Ennis melee on Tuesday night.

Fitzgerald was pictured on television last night heavily involved in the fracas but he is protesting his innocence saying that he did not strike the first blow.

The row involving substitutes and mentors of Tipperary and Clare erupted after Tipp had condemned the home side to an 11th Munster under 21 hurling final defeat at Cusack Park. Tipp won a tempestuous but highly entertaining match by 1-18 to 1-15 thanks to a storming second half.

But their win was marred by the scenes which greeted the final whistle. Fitzgerald was apparently struck by a blow from a Tipp substitute who was then set upon by three to four substitutes from the Clare bench in response. Fitzgerald is trainer for the under 21 team which is managed by Kevin Kennedy. The Clare goalkeeper and went on Clare FM yesterday morning to protest his innocence.

Eye-witnesses say he was quite vocal to his players along the sideline during the match.

Fitzgerald told the local radio station that he did not strike the first blow and that he was taken totally unaware by the alleged attack which started the whole affair.

Six gardai in the vicinity of the tunnel-dug-out area stepped in and had the row under control within a minute.

Fitzgerald was distraught afterwards and was close to tears in the Clare dressing room afterwards, claiming innocence in the incident.

Sources in Clare say that words may have been exchanged between Fitzgerald and the substitute in question leading up to the flare up.

The incident and the match itself will increase the density of bad blood between the counties which has been brewing for the best part of nineties.

There is more anger in Clare GAA circles that no Tipp official visited their dressing room afterwards yet Clare chairman Fr Michael McNamara paid the compliment of a visit to Tipperary afterwards.The Munster Council have promised a full investigation into the episode which spoiled a great occasion. An official estimate of 17,000 descended on Ennis for the match between these two great rivals. Unofficial estimates had the attendance at over 20,000.

An incident in the first half which forced Clare corner-forward Bryan McMahon out of the match provoked fury among the crowd and that set the tone for the remainder of the game.

Tipp corner-back Tom Costello only received a booking after referee Michael Wadding consulted with one of his linesman. McMahon was due to undergo a facial operation sometime today.

There was local speculation that words between the substitutes sparked the bust up but it has emerged that the incident which left the Clare trainer on the ground provoked a stern reaction from the Clare bench. GAA disciplinary bodies take a dim view of substitutes getting involved a fracas of this nature.

Dublin and Offaly subs who became embroiled in the infamous Parnell Park row in March '97 were dealt with heavily by the Leinster Council.

The same provincial body has also come down hard on other substitutes who have raced onto the field to get involved. In '93 Dublin substitutes who rushed in for a goalmouth melee during their Leinster under 21 final with Meath were hit with big suspensions also.

Munster Council chairman Sean Kelly, who was present at the match admitted the row "set a bad example to young people." And he promised a full investigation into what happened.

"Obviously when a melee takes place after a game it is always worse than one during it.

"It's a shame because it was a cracking match and I would have to say that from what I could see the row looked worse than it actually was.

"But no row can be condoned and when they happen after the final whistle is blown they are even more harmful.

"There were more people trying to break it up than there was actually involved. But it leaves a sour taste. It was phenomenal for 17,049 to show up in Cusack Park for an under 21 final.There was excitement on the line but but there didn't seem to be any agitation."

Relations between Clare and Tipperary are not exactly cordial and this latest twist won't help. Clare hammered the Tipp seniors in this year's championship with an awesome display in a Munster semi-final replay.

That match wasn't without incident either as Jamesie O'Connor picked up a broken arm in suspicious circumstances.

Meanwhile Cork hurling colossus Brian Corcoran has taken a swipe at the GAA over the poor ticket allocation which participating players receive for All-Ireland finals.

Corcoran is annoyed that he may not have enough tickets for Sunday week's match for all his family.

And he says that it's a major problem for all members of the Cork squad who are in the same position.

The powerful centre-back believes the GAA should be going out of the way to facilitate players with more tickets.

He said:"No player wants to be paid for playing but we all would like to be looked after a little better with tickets for matches.

"Cork are getting 9,000 out of 59,000 tickets for next week's match which is disgraceful. I presume it's the same for Kilkenny. There are people at work looking for tickets assuming that the likes of me has a limitless supply.

"They don't believe you when they say you're only getting 12 or 14," he said. That's not enough to even cover the family. Tickets are a big issue to me, bigger than pay for play."
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:KEYS, Colm
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 2, 1999
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