Friday, February 03, 2023

Waterford manager, Davy Fitzgerald, at the launch of the new Waterford jersey at Congnizant in Lismore this week. Photo: Phillip Cullinane.

Davy Fitzgerald doesn’t mind the two-hour drive from Sixmilebridge to the SETU Arena. After a year on the RTÉ sofa, he is back in inter county management. Where he belongs.
“I like coming down, I enjoy it. I have Bomber (James Hickey) and Michael ‘Gazzy’ Collins with me all the time. They’ve been with me wherever I’ve been. For years. The craic we have in the car is brilliant. You know what? I enjoyed my first spell in Waterford. 99 per cent of the people were lovely to me. They know that I’m passionate about hurling. You’d often hear one or two ridiculous stories about different things but they never bother me. I know the facts; I know why I’m here. I’m here to help out and do the best job I possibly can. It would be easy for me to sit on The Sunday Game, I’d do pretty ok out of that. I promise you I’d do alright. But I love this, I love being involved. When the chance came to work with the lads, I was delighted. But I know it’s not straightforward.”

Fitzgerald and his backroom team have trawled through the footage and found room to improve. “We’ve analysed the games over the last three or four years and we know that there’s three or four aspects that we have to change in order to make the step that we believe. To change those things, you’re changing habits that are there for a long, long time. That takes a bit of doing. A small bit of patience will be required over a few games. If we can do it in the two to three years, fine. If we can’t, I’ll say to the next person ‘best of luck’. I’m going to explore every avenue. I think the lads actually understand the three or four different things that we have to work on. We’ve asked them how they feel about the few things we have to change and they’re happy to do it. The one thing I’d say to you. We’ve looked at games non-stop for the last few years. If you tell me that it’s fifteen on fifteen out there, you’re fooling yourself. It’s not fifteen on fifteen. Look at the games properly. Look at how many forwards from Limerick or Clare are going back into their back lines. We had one particular match that we looked at and I saw no forward inside 40 yards for long patches. Whatever way we decide to do it, back us. It’s not as negative as you think. If you ask the lads, they’ll tell you. I’m mad for them to express themselves in various different ways. I’d like to think that we’d be progressive rather than any other way.”

2023 marks his 15th season as an inter-county manager (five with Waterford, five with Clare and five with Wexford). The fire still burns. “If I can get my players to give a hundred and ten per cent for their team, their team mates, their families, their counties and they go out there and represent them with everything they have in their body, no matter whether we win or lose, that’s massive. The other thing is to win something you’re not meant to win and to see people afterwards. To see how happy they are. ‘We’ve done something we’re not meant to do.’ That motivates me. That’s the reason I’m back. I’d love to see can I be part of a Munster winning team or an All-Ireland winning team. That’s what’s in my head. They’re the two biggest things that keep me going and keep me at it.”
Davy’s track record shows that he loves to upset the odds. “Ennistymon in Clare won their first Junior A title back in 2004. I remember winning an intermediate with Killanena. They never won an intermediate in Clare and to see people around the parish, their emotion was incredible. To win the Fitzgibbon Cup with LIT for the first time in their history. To manage Clare to an All-Ireland, for Wexford to lift Leinster. A lot of the teams I’ve won with are teams that are not meant to win. That’s what I love. I love if I can do that and be involved in that. Will everybody be happy with how you go about doing that? No. But I don’t care. If you do the same as other teams, you’re not going to win. You have to play the game on your terms as much as possible. That’s very important to me.”

Waterford won the league last April but crashed out of the Munster championship by May. So, how will Davy approach the competition this time around? “We’ll be trying to win every game anyway number one. There’s no point saying different. Will we be at championship pace for the league, as fast as we can be, as nippy as we can be? No, we won’t. There’s another gear we’ll try and get to maybe from around end of February, start of March as regards our speed. I know there’s stuff going to break down during the league. I know supporters will be going ‘why are they doing that?’ We have to try and get it. I’ll give you an example. Our puckout win ratio for the last number of years hasn’t been good. Well under 40 per cent. We have to try and get more in that area. That’s one. There’s a few more areas that I won’t go into. It’s going to be frustrating maybe at the start but we have to give ourselves opportunities of getting more in that area alone. We’ll understand if people get a bit down about certain things, we know where we’re going and what we’ve got to do. We would like to give ourselves X amount of opportunities from our puckout rather than just hitting them down the field. There’s lots of things we’re working on. The only thing I can say to genuine, honest supporters is that we’re working extremely hard but there might be a small bit of pain before the other side comes to where we need it to come to.”

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