‘Sav­age bat­tle’ on the cards

Fitzger­ald pleads to sup­port­ers to turn out in force

Gorey Guardian - - SPORT - BREN­DAN FUR­LONG Sports re­porter

MAN­AGER DAVY Fitzger­ald be­lieves Wex­ford’s hurt and need to bring their game to an­other level will de­cide their im­pact on the Le­in­ster Se­nior hurl­ing cham­pi­onship.

Fitzger­ald was in no mood for dis­guis­ing what is re­quired when Wex­ford step out on In­no­vate Wex­ford Park on Sun­day af­ter­noon (3 p.m.) for their open­ing provin­cial cham­pi­onship clash with Dublin, claim­ing ‘it’s go­ing to be the mother of all bat­tles. It’s go­ing to be sav­age’.

The Wex­ford man­ager also be­lieves that the provin­cial ti­tle race is wide open but does not know what to ex­pect from his side hav­ing to face into four games in a row, played in a 21-day pe­riod.

‘Just look at it, we have the reign­ing provin­cial and All-Ire­land cham­pi­ons com­ing to Wex­ford, we have to travel to Kilkenny and Of­faly, but for now we will look no fur­ther than our open­ing game with Dublin. Just look at our re­cent record against Dublin, it’s not good, and peo­ple need to re­alise that.’

Last year when Wex­ford gained pro­mo­tion in the Na­tional League, Fitzger­ald knew it was go­ing to bring its own pres­sure come 2018. Hav­ing gained long-awaited pro­mo­tion, Fitzger­ald was al­ways adamant that it was im­por­tant for Wex­ford to re­tain their sta­tus as that is where the county needs to be to build into se­ri­ous hurl­ing con­tenders.

‘It was im­por­tant for Wex­ford in 2018 to com­pete, also from a learn­ing point of view and a fi­nan­cial point of view, and also from sup­port­ers’ point of view, that we re­main in Di­vi­sion 1A. It was a big ask but in fair­ness to the play­ers we stepped up to each chal­lenge.

‘We had five league games, and two more in the knock­out stages, and they were all played with the in­ten­sity of cham­pi­onship hurl­ing, ex­cept for our fi­nal game, the semi-fi­nal with Kilkenny.

‘Since I’ve taken over we have played 26 games, but the one that dis­ap­pointed me most was that fi­nal game with Kilkenny. We had trained hard prior to the league, but did not train with the same in­ten­sity dur­ing the league, but for some rea­son we fell flat.

‘I’ve been try­ing to get the bal­ance right in prepa­ra­tion, so let’s hope it will come right for Sun­day. But one never knows, you won’t know un­til the day,’ Fitzger­ald said.

Wex­ford’s supremo is still hurt­ing from that Kilkenny semi-fi­nal de­feat.

‘We were flat. We let our sup­port­ers down, which to me was dis­ap­point­ing, par­tic­u­larly with such a huge crowd in Wex­ford Park. Since I took over the most im­por­tant thing that I have stressed to the play­ers is that we have fight. We did not have it that day.

‘I felt we let the sup­port­ers down big time, the play­ers feel the same, and it was dis­ap­point­ing in front of such big sup­port. But we are de­ter­mined to get back up there, of that there’s no doubt,’ he added.

So, what has changed? ‘We are ab­so­lutely try­ing our hard­est. We might qual­ify in the Le­in­ster cham­pi­onship or we might not. It’s go­ing to be a bat­tle, one hell of a bat­tle.

‘Dublin’s Conal Keaney has said stuff in the last two to three years, that they (Dublin) do not fear Wex­ford, they do not rate Wex­ford. So I feel they are tar­get­ing the Wex­ford game along with the Of­faly game.

‘Of­faly won’t care when they get us up to O’Con­nor Park. It’s go­ing to be tough and Wex­ford sup­port­ers need to re­alise that. The Dublin game is go­ing to be mas­sive. I don’t think there is go­ing to be more than a puck of the ball be­tween the sides.

‘From last year my only thing go­ing for­ward was to put an em­pha­sis on the league. We did not train hard through the league, we tried to get a bal­ance, but we got what we needed from the league.

‘Dublin have im­proved a lot, beat­ing Lim­er­ick and draw­ing with Water­ford in chal­lenge game. We have only beaten Dublin once in the last eight to nine years. Of­faly have beaten us not long ago, so I know it’s go­ing to be tough, the play­ers re­alise that also.

‘Now I be­lieve we must bring the hurt of that Kilkenny game into the Dublin clash, while also we must try to bring our game to an­other level. Will the con­fi­dence and be­lief dip fol­low­ing the Kilkenny de­feat, I don’t know, but we are work­ing on it, work­ing non-stop.

‘Look, we are just one and a half years into this project. It took Derek McGrath four years in Water­ford, and he’s done well. We have worked but the sup­port­ers need to be pa­tient.

‘Stay with us as I be­lieve we have a team to bring us there. I can­not fault the play­ers. The ef­fort they have put into prepa­ra­tion is im­mense,’ Fitzger­ald added.

Wex­ford’s sup­port­ers are al­ways dream­ing of big days. ‘I have not found them de­mand­ing so I hope they stay that way. Prob­a­bly there is a per­cep­tion out there, in a way, there’s a lot of ex­pec­ta­tion on the team.

‘As I’ve said, be pa­tient, we have the play­ers that can de­liver. As I’ve said be­fore this is a project. I was handed a two- to three-year project, pro­mo­tion in the league and qual­ify for a Le­in­ster fi­nal. We achieved both in our first year. Now this is the con­tin­u­a­tion of that project.’

So, can Wex­ford ad­just to what­ever Dublin has to throw at them?

‘They have a blend of ex­pe­ri­ence and youth, with an ex­pe­ri­enced spine down the cen­tre. They are all qual­ity hurlers but I be­lieve they have brought a real phys­i­cal­ity to their game. We know what to ex­pect from both Gil­roy and An­thony Cun­ning­ham, their coach.

‘This is go­ing to be the mother of all bat­tles. It’s go­ing to be a sav­age bat­tle. We need ev­ery­one in Wex­ford Park, make it a sea of pur­ple and gold. Get be­hind the team even when things may not be go­ing their way.

‘The 16th man could be cru­cial in get­ting us over the line.’ Just win­ning the match by what­ever means is the mantra em­a­nat­ing from the Wex­ford camp.

Eamonn Dil­lon of Dublin gives Pádraig Fo­ley the slip when the sides met in the Walsh Cup semi-fi­nal in Par­nell Park ear­lier in the year.

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