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Davy - Waterford pressure, Tipp great Kelly joins up and door open to O'Keeffe

Ballygunner’s Stephen O’Keeffe stepped away after the 2020 All-Ireland defeat.

Image: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

DAVY FITZGERALD IS back in the hot seat and relishing it. With a smile, the new Waterford boss says he knows what awaits him. 

“I’m back in the firing line now!”

Last month it was confirmed the Clare native will take charge on a two-year term with an option for a third year. His fourth role as a senior intercounty manager, a return to where it all started.

Irelands Fittest Family Final 11th Sept 2022_104 Source: Kyran O'Brien

He spent 2022 off-broadway, coaching the Cork camogie team with some punditry work on the side. It was educational and enjoyable. But this show belongs on centre stage.

“It was nice and easy when I was in the studio in RTE and I could talk about everyone. You know the story yourselves. 

“I’m back on the sideline but I love that, I love being out on the field coaching and coming up with different stuff and seeing can you make a difference.”

What does he make of Waterford’s championship collapse this year? It is something he is currently discussing with players. That feedback will be utilised to avoid the same pitfall in the future.  

His task must start at home. The Déise’s championship record stands at two wins from 15 games. That is a concern, he admits. A non-negotiable starting point on the road to the peak.   

“Myself and my management team, all of us, have to be able to put Waterford in a position where they’re competing to win Munster or the All-Ireland.

“We have to be in a position over the next two or three years to be within a genuine chance, a genuine chance of winning Munster and the All-Ireland. And I don’t mean a token gesture either. We have to be right there.” 

Fitzgerald has added Tipperary great Eoin Kelly and Waterford coach Peter Queally to his ticket. 

“Eoin Kelly was my captain in LIT when we won our first Fitzgibbon,” he recalls.

“I know from that and playing against him what Eoin brings. Eoin as a player was one of the best I have ever come across. His talent was incredible but his commitment to the team, and his desire to win, he’s a winner.

“I know Eoin is Tipp to the core but as I said to him, I’m a massive Clare man. People will say ‘Davy, you have been in Waterford, Wexford.’ Yeah, but I played for Clare for 18 years. Eoin played for 15, 16. He was involved in the backroom.

“He has over 20 years given to Tipp at the top level. I have over 20 years. But that doesn’t mean we should sit on the shelf and do nothing. If the opportunity arises, why not be in the ball game?

“I think we have given so much to our counties. A time might come when you give it again. But I’m delighted to have a man of his vision and talent coming on board with us.”

Meanwhile, three-time All-Star and Waterford hurling great Tony Browne has been linked with a role in Liam Cahill’s Tipperary backroom team. He previously served as a selector under Cahill and played under Fitzgerald. 

Anticipating the contests to come on and off the field is cause for great excitement. 

“If that happens, you’d wish Tony all the best. The big thing is Liam knows exactly what Waterford have and what the story is. He spent the last three years with them. So he’ll be very familiar with us. Maybe Eoin might have a bit of familiarity with what the Tipp story is.

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“The Munster Championship, I’m kind of excited. I haven’t been there for a while. It’s going back into the firing line. Our first match is against Limerick in Walsh Park. Our second match is against Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

“Our third match is against Clare in Walsh Park. And our fourth match is against Tipp. My God, I actually feel nervous thinking about it. Those games are going to be incredible.”

As for the squad, there is scope for change and more high-profile comebacks. Despite the fact that Ballygunner goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe stepped away after the 2020 All-Ireland defeat and said his inter-county career is over last year, Fitzgerald is hoping to sit down with the 2017 All-Star. 

“The big thing here is we’re looking at everyone and anyone in the Waterford championship. Stephen was exceptional in the county final. He was top class. We are lucky in Waterford with Shaun (O’Brien) and Billy (Nolan) that were there last year. Would you like a Stephen O’Keeffe? Of course you would, to make things even better again.

“You’d want to be stupid not to. But I think it’s important that we give Stephen that bit of time to do what he has to with Ballygunner, and have the chat and things like that.”

When asked does that include former All-Stars Maurice Shanahan and Noel Connors, who were dropped by Liam Cahill ahead of the 2020 season, Fitzgerald stressed while he is a familiar face, this is a new era.

“It doesn’t matter what previous management did or didn’t do. If we think there is someone who can add value to this we will look at it.”

Davy Fitzgerald was speaking at the launch of Londis’ sponsorship of Ireland’s Fittest Family. The tenth season starts on Sunday 2nd October. 

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