IN THE SAME room where he sat with a look of blissful contentment after Wexford’s Leinster final success, Davy Fitzgerald almost broke down on a number of occasions as he picked his way through the wreckage of today’s two-point loss to Tipperary.
Wexford boss Davy Fitzgerald.
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
After moving five points in front against 14 men in the 50th minute, the Clare native understandably felt they left it behind them. In his third year in charge of the Model County, this was a glorious chance to reach their first All-Ireland decider since 1996.
“It’s an opportunity (lost) yeah,” he admitted. “We could have been there but we’re not and there’s nothing I can say.
“It was an opportunity but I’m wicked proud of the guys, that was there for the winning. We did enough of stuff to nearly get over the line.”
Summing up his emotions, he went on: “I can tell you how I’m feeling and how the lads are feeling – you don’t want it. You don’t want this feeling because we know we possibly could have been there.
“And it hurts so badly because Wexford haven’t been there in 23 years and I more than anything I wanted this team to get there. I absolutely adore that bunch. If I asked that bunch to do anything for me…they would.”
John McGrath’s dismissal for a second yellow in the 45th minute was a pivotal moment in the game. Wexford hit 1-2 in the five minutes after his dismissal, but the Premier stared down the barrel of the gun and refused to wilt, scoring five unanswered scores to move back level by the 57th minute.
“I just feel the sending off, you’d think it would work for you, it actually didn’t it allowed Tipp more space and they got to avoid our sweeper a good bit, they played smart,” said Fitzgerald.
“I feel our half-forward line retreated too deep. I was trying to get them to get them out to midfield so we could stay turning over the ball. When we ran the ball there was only one winner in that game and it was just very hard to keep doing it.
“And whether it got into the boys’ heads that when we had the lad sent off they just went a bit too direct, a small bit too direct for my liking.
Liam Sheedy shakes hands with Fitzgerald after the game.
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
“I think when we worked it short we were incredible through the line but in saying that you have to admire Tipperary’s resilience, they never gave up and fair play to them that’s what hurling is about. My hat is off to them even though I’m absolutely so disappointed.
“I just was worried that’d we’d go too direct. It suited them they got six on six at the back and I thought we withdrew small but too much. I was trying to get the boys out the field and stay doing what we were doing.
“We had a game plan and we stuck to it and we were good but it’s very hard when a man gets sent off like that…I was trying to get them back out and stay going short because we looked incredible on the ball when we went short.”
In any sport, it’s not uncommon for a team to step up in the face of losing a man.
Tipperary as a unit were certainly greater than the sum of their parts in the final quarter. Their fitness levels were extremely impressive and they shot just four wides in the second period while managing to keep the ball away from Wexford sweeper Kevin Foley.
“I think they just got the momentum at the right time,” he added.
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Wexford scored only once from open play after the 50th minute. The running game that threatened to cut Tipperary open during the first-half slowed down – probably due to fatigue – while five different Premier player popped over efforts from play in the final 10 minutes.
“There’s times in games where you get a kick and you keep going from it. We probably got ours a small bit too early they got it at the right time and they are a team, they’ll pick you.
“We had discussed before the game if we stand one yard off them we are dead, in the first half we didn’t stand-off, we had them pinned, we had them pinned. I think we defended a small bit more when we got up five points instead of staying attacking and staying tight.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them though, how they tried to play that game was incredible, they were moving up and down the field.”
Lee Chin dejected after the game.
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
He then loaded his gun and took aim at the critics of his sweeper system.
“People talk to me about the sweeper system being negative, it’s time to get down off their high horses and just look at hurling and stop being so negative.
“It drives me nuts. People talking about stuff they haven’t a clue about. If you call Wexford negative then I don’t know because we were getting attackers, we were getting players all over the place. We scored three (goals) we could have scored six, we were there. We were right there.
“And to me, talk about hurling? That’s the right way to play hurling, not get it between two people and beat the lard out of each other.
“Play the game short and long, play it cross then be manful as well. People need to stop and have a look and let teams do their thing and stop being on their back. I’m so proud of our crowd and I’m so proud of our supporters as well.
“They never got on our back, they stayed with us and I’m wicked proud of them and the way they conducted themselves.”
A shattering loss for Fitzgerald and his team.
If this is how it ends for him in Wexford, what a journey it’s been.
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