Kevin O’Brien reports from Croke Park
WHEN A CONTINGENT of 12 Wexford players piled onto a bus and pointed it towards Clare last August, they went with the intention of convincing Davy Fitzgerald to stay in charge for at least one more season.
Sensing they were close to making a breakthrough, the players were determined not to let an All-Ireland winning manager walk without a fight. It turned out to be a shrewd move.
The gesture was well-received and Fitzgerald eventually committed for the 2019 campaign. 10 months later, they’re Leinster champions.
Davy Fitzgerald celebrates after the game with Diarmuid O’Keefe.
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
It’s often been said of Davy Fitz that his energetic approach to management means his teams will most likely enjoy success in his first couple of years in charge before the fire burns out.
That’s certainly not the case with this Wexford team. They delivered arguably their greatest display under the Clare native yesterday, securing the provincial title with a deserved three-point win over Kilkenny.
“Fuck it, it’s hard to describe that feeling,” an elated Fitzgerald declared afterwards.
“Jesus. You only get a few of them as a manager and a player and I don’t know how to describe it but it’s incredible.”
He was quick to point out that Wexford’s detractors felt this group didn’t have a huge amount to offer before he was appointed manager ahead of the 2017 season.
“I remember when I went to Wexford first a lot of people told me, ‘Don’t bother, they haven’t a chance of doing nothing.’ I fucking loved when that final whistle went.
“There is nothing that can’t be achieved in life, or nothing that can’t be done. I’m one of them people. I can hear them (in the dressing-room) from here.
If you come down to our training you would know what it is like. They come in an hour beforehand. They belt out the tunes, we’ll all sit down and chat for a while. I want it to be an environment where they come to.
“I want them to enjoy what they do. They have worked tirelessly to get here. People might say it is a Leinster championship. A Leinster championship means so much to this bunch it is incredible and so much to the Wexford people.
“The emotion feels the exact same for me, whether it is winning with Clare as a player or as a manager, winning with Waterford. Just happy to see those boys so happy. If I told you half the stuff them boys said to me when the final whistle went … it makes it so worthwhile.”
Matthew O’Hanlon and Lee Chin lift the trophy.
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
In his speech, joint-captain Matthew O’Hanlon declared the bond between the manager and players as the closest he’s ever experienced in a dressing room.
“I know it meant a lot to them,” said the Clare native. “They love their hurling. I’m stuck for words but I’m very proud of them.
“Management style has changed incredibly, even from when I started to now. The young people are different. You have to handle them a different way in trying to get the next out of them.
You have to make them feel…our psyche today was that there are a lot of people who are ill and who can’t do stuff. My belief in life is when you get an opportunity to go out in Croke Park to play you go out and you play.
“We came here to play, we didn’t come to freeze. I’d like to think the lads are humble. We do bring a lot of people in around us that aren’t as fortunate,” he added.
One of those people was 11-year-old Michael O’Brien, who appeared alongside Fitzgerald on the Late Late Toy Show last year. The manager invited O’Brien to come along to their league win over Tipperary back in February, something that struck a chord with the players.
“You take young Michael (O’Brien) from Kerry that came into us this year – if you’d seen the speech he gave before the Tipp game,” he said.
Absolute privilege to have Michael O’ Brien with @OfficialWexGAA today. What an inspiration to kids and adults alike. You could hear a pin drop when he spoke to the players before the game. A truly super young man #AllianzLeague #Inspiration pic.twitter.com/jnzcfSrCgI
— Seoirse Bulfin (@SeoirseBulfin) February 17, 2019
“All the boys thought I put him up to it, I didn’t say a word to him. He actually told them it’s about time they start living their dream. This is a young guy that was blind and it registered big time with the lads.
“That’s the way we are. We don’t do team talks before we go out on the field. There was nothing before we went out on the field today. I won’t tell you what we did but it is different. I want them to be able to just go out and hurl and express themselves.”
Considering they shipped a heavy 5-25 to 0-16 pummeling by Kilkenny in the summer of 2015, it’s been some turnaround for the Model County in a short period of time.
If you look back to 2015 I think Kilkenny beat Wexford by 25 points, so I don’t think anyone would have thought of delivering (a Leinster title) within four years. So I’m just delighted that they showed they can bridge a gap and come back into it, that’s a big thing for me.”
Wexford changed their formation on five occasions during the game according to their manager to try and keep the Kilkenny attack under wraps. Fitzgerald was keen to praise his opposite number Brian Cody, who he described as “the best manager I’ve ever seen.”
He explained: “Two years ago we played unreal against Kilkenny in the semi-final, I don’t think we hit the same heights against Galway. I think tactically I was found out as well. There were a few things I had to learn and I did learn them.
“I have to be totally honest with you, the battles with Kilkenny are incredible. I would have incredible respect for their manager and for their county. You bench yourself in wanting to be the best you can be.
Davy Fitzgerald on the team bus with the trophy after the game.
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
“I’m not afraid of Kilkenny and never have been, but I’d respect them and want to train my teams to compete with them and beat them if they can. That’s a mark of respect to them and what they’ve done for hurling over the last 15 years. They’re still there and going no place. I wouldn’t like to be the team that will meet them.
Click Here: サッカーユニフォーム
“I would say straight out they have the best manager I’ve ever seen. And I mean, that, 100% the best manager I’ve ever seen and I love going up against him. The way that they have changed tactically is incredible in the last two years.
They were a small bit loose in the last two years at tracking men, they’re not anymore. They’re able to play short, move it, cross it, they’re doing a lot more stuff than they had done in the previous 10 years.
“Their style, the way they’ve adapted – and they’ve had to adapt – it’s been incredible. A lot of people mightn’t give them the credit they deserve for that.”
Talk of the All-Ireland semi-final and the next step along the journey came too soon for Fitzgerald, who was keen to enjoy the moment.
“I’ll tell you know where it is, it’s coming back to Wexford tonight. We won’t worry about what’s going to happen after that. Myself, I don’t know. I’m going to actually enjoy the next two or three days and then I’m going to start thinking about a semi-final.
We’ll see what the story is after that. It’s very hard to think to down the road or even down the road a few months. Personally myself, I’m kind of one of these animals that lives day-to-day and takes every day for what it is and enjoy it.
“That’s what we’re going to do in Wexford. I’ve been asked a few times about a semi-final and guys I don’t want to talk about a semi-final. I just want to talk about today and enjoy it and we’ll see where it brings us.”
The42 is on Instagram! Tap the button below on your phone to follow us!