HURLING: DAVY EXPECTS ‘MOTHER OF ALL BATTLES’ ON SUNDAY
Fitzgerald pleads to supporters to turn out in force
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 hurt- ing 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.