Interesting road trip for Wexford hurlers
By Cian O'Connell
It was a road trip with a difference; the mission was clear and simple. Davy Fitzgerald was going to be informed what he meant to the Wexford panel.
So a raft of cars left the south east and headed for Clare. The conversation started, Fitzgerald's attention captured, and Wexford's panel had the manager they craved for another campaign.
Was it an easy decision for Fitzgerald to remain in charge? "It was, yeah," Fitzgerald, speaking at the launch of the 2018 Fenway Hurling Classic, replies.
"They’re a great bunch of guys. Absolutely delighted to stay on with them. When you’ve a good few of them arrive down to your house, mad for the road, it was an easy enough decision at the end of the day.
"Listen, I would have a very close connection to ... listen, I’m not going to keep all of them, there’s no way a manager can keep 36 guys happy," Fitzgerald admits.
"But in fairness, we get on very well. I was surprised to see them all come down. The lads that couldn’t come down texted me. 99.9% of the lads were in touch with me, so it was nice to see. I suppose I’m going into nearly year 30 at the top level. It’s a lot of stuff, it’s a lot of years."
Did Fitzgerald know that visitors were on the way? "They let me know," Fitzgerald says.
"They gave me 24 hours’ notice, fair play to them. So I couldn’t go any place! They knew that there was something else that I could have done besides managing the team. They just wanted to let me know how they felt."
A sense of unfinished business exists for Wexford. "I was wondering," Fitzgerald adds. "120 trips up and down to Wexford is a lot of trips. I was saying to the lads back there, there was one or two times last year, when the weather was really bad and I met four crashes on one day there, going up the dual carriage way, it was carnage.
"You do wonder at times, you’re not getting back to 1 o’clock at night. You can get tired. But I really enjoy it. I love going down to Ferns, I love meeting the caretaker Seamus, sit down to have a cup of tea.
"Then do my stuff. It feels good. You get over the driving. There’s nothing like being involved in the middle of it."
Lee Chin acknowledges that the Wexford players were eager to show how much Fitzgerald had inspired the group.
"We took it upon ourselves as players to really show him what he means to us," Chin says. "We really appreciate him in Wexford and we love working with him.
"We thought, lookit, it's the least that we could have done it get down to see him and in some ways we wanted to sympathise with him: we understand his situation with travel and his other commitments and his own personal life.
"Obviously, we were being somewhat selfish in saying that, 'Look, we want you back.' I think Davy is the kind of man who would never commit to something that his heart is not in.
"This is why he's there. I don't think it's just for us going down to him. It probably pushed him towards that decision a little bit more and we're just grateful that he did."
Chin has been struck by how Fitzgerald and Wexford have formed such a strong relationship.
"We think it's a perfect fit: we get on so well in Wexford and have time for him," Chin states. "We know that it's the same coming from his end.
"In general, the public in Wexford just adore him - they love him in Wexford. You can tell by the numbers turning up to the games. "Obviously, that's through progress and Wexford hurling going in the right direction. We know Davy's the lad driving that bus. He's the guy that's behind it all and reinforcing this new type of hurling that we're playing and style of hurling in Wexford.
"Everyone loves it: the success, the progress. I know we haven't won anything yet, but they can see us coming in a positive direction."