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Third promotion since 2012 for Davy Fitzgerald, but Wexford must avoid a summer burnout like Clare

The Banner won eight of their nine league games in 2016 before they ran out of steam by the summer.

IT WAS PART of a two or three year plan, but Davy Fitzgerald has managed to bring top flight hurling back to Wexford on the first time of asking.

Davy Fitzgerald Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

The feel good factor has returned to hurling in the Model county and they’ll be plying their trade in the top tier next year for the first time since 2011.

It represents a serious step-forward for Wexford, considering it was an eight-team division when they last competed in the old Division 1 seven years ago.

The presence of Galway and Limerick in Division 1B meant many wrote off Wexford’s chances of winning promotion, including some of Fitzgerald’s confidants.

“Friends were saying ‘you’re not going to achieve anything going down there’, ‘you haven’t a hope of winning promotion’, they didn’t see anything positive,” the Clare native told RTÉ Sport after the game.

“I’m delighted for everybody involved and it’s great that we are going to be playing top-class opposition next season.

“I thought it would take us a couple of seasons to make 1A, but the confidence that we’ll gain in achieving the goal now should stand to us.”

div1b

Wexford’s quick progression under the former All-Ireland winning manager has become the story of the early part of the year.

Opening their league campaign against Limerick and Galway clearly worked in Wexford’s favour.

Although they’d have wanted to go up, the Tribesmen have an eye on peaking later in the year, while Limerick have been building for the future with 13 U21s currently part of John Kiely’s senior panel.

It allowed Fitzgerald to focus on building their fitness levels over the winter and they put it to good use with come-from-behind wins over both promotion rivals. With the sod still heavy at this time of year, Wexford’s superior conditioning gave them a big advantage over their rivals.

Derek Morkan and David Redmond Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

He’ll have to be on his guard that his side don’t follow the path Clare did last year. The Banner were flying it 12 months ago, winning eight out of their nine league games to secure promotion and capture the league outright.

But the flame burned out in a disappointing summer campaign and Clare fell at the first hurdle in Munster before bowing out meekly by six points to Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Ultimately, it all comes down to how Wexford perform in the championship and that’s where they’ll be judged.

“In saying that, all the effort now may catch us out later in the year,” Fitzgerald conceded. “We may end up just a small bit behind the top teams.”

That’s not to discount Fitzgerald’s achievement. His coaching nous, structured game-plan and high-profile has put Wexford under a spotlight they haven’t experienced in years – and they’re thriving under it.

The former goalkeeper has a golden touch when it comes to sealing promotion from the second tier. He’s managed to guide Waterford, Clare and now Wexford to top flight hurling since 2012.

Davy Fitzgerald Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

There’s plenty of reason for optimism in Wexford, not least because Fitzgerald’s teams tend to experience a massive leap forward in his first year in charge.

He brought the Deise all the way to the 2008 All-Ireland final, while delivered Clare to promotion from Division 1B in 2012 – a campaign that laid the groundwork for their stunning All-Ireland win a year later.

Wexford are enjoying the fruits of Fitzgerald’s labour in these early months and he’s also managed to entice talented forward Jack Guiney back from the inter-county wilderness.

There’s a real confidence building in Wexford now. Provided they can see off whichever round robin side they face in the Leinster quarter-final, a last four clash with Kilkenny is coming down the tracks.

Fitzgerald is probably well aware he’s never beaten Brian Cody in the championship, losing all three of their meetings during his time as Waterford boss between 2008 and 2011.

Despite their spirited display in Thurles on Saturday night, the Cats are no longer the superpower they once were.

No better man than Davy Fitzgerald to be plotting Kilkenny’s downfall.

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Kevin O'Brien

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