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Davy Fitz: On the Galway job, punditry plans, Galvin feud and what comes next?

‘This is very unusual for me to have zero teams to think about. I’d never normally stop.’

“I’M ACTUALLY QUITE at peace,” says Davy Fitzgerald. “I’m very happy to wish Galway and Henry the very best of luck.”

IFF Final 28th Aug 2021_14 Hurling icon Davy Fitzgerald is pictured at the launch of Londis’ sponsorship of Ireland’s Fittest Family. Londis will sponsor RTÉ's hit TV show for a third year in a row, which returns to our screens on Sunday 31st October for a ninth season. Source: Kyran O'Brien

The former Wexford, Clare and Waterford manager is nearing the end of a busy morning of media interviews, where the ascension of King Henry to the throne in Galway is the hot topic of discussion.

It’s looking like 2022 will be the first season since 1988 that Fitzgerald has not been involved as a player or manager on the inter-county scene. His tenure in Wexford, which peaked with Leinster success in 2019, came to an end after five years in July.

Only last week, he looked set to take over from Shane O’Neill out west, until Henry Shefflin came from nowhere and stunned the hurling world.

Fitzgerald looks serene as he responds to a flurry of questions about the week that was.

How does he reflect on the process that saw him pipped when he believed the job was his?

“I did have a chat with them,” he responds. “They decided to go with Henry, and that’s it. I’m driving on. I’ve a lot of things to look forward to, and that’s it. It’s very simple for me.

“It was probably made a lot more out of than it needed to be.”

Was he as surprised as the rest of us when Shefflin’s name was announced?

“Listen, Henry got the job at the end of the day. He’d won two All-Ireland clubs with Ballyhale and was an unbelievable player. This is probably a lot different but I think he’ll do really well.

“I wish him nothing but the best, there’s no animosity here towards Henry from my side without a shadow of a doubt. I only wish him the best. I think it’s the natural progression for him.”

Did he get an explanation from Galway as to why they chose Shefflin ahead of him?

“I’m happy enough with how it ended up and they went it Henry,” he says. “That’s the way it goes. We had our chat, they rang me and we had the one or two chats so we did, and they decided to go down that road. And that’s fine.

“I don’t want any explanations. I think my record stands for itself over the last few years. Obviously there’s a lot of publicity around certain things I do and say. I don’t hold back on certain things.

“The most important thing with me is I like to think I get results when I go places. I do pretty okay. I think that stands up for itself.”

How does he respond to Larry O’Gorman’s recent claim that taking the Galway job would have shown a lack of loyalty to Wexford?

“I was a bit disappointed in that. I talked to a few of the Wexford players, and they didn’t agree with what Larry had to say. And they would mean more to me than what Larry would, being honest.

“I talked to a good few supporters down there, and they said to me, ‘You’ve given five years of unbelievable service, you’ve gone above and beyond the call’. So to be honest, I think. I didn’t pay much attention to what Larry said, being honest with you.”

davy-fitzgerald-signs-a-young-fans-match-day-program-before-the-game avy Fitzgerald signs a young Wexford fan's match day program before a game. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Aside from being overlooked for the Galway job, his native Sixmilebridge – who he coaches under Tim Crowe – were knocked out at the quarter-final stage of the Clare SHC earlier this month.

Fitzgerald’s son is over the club’s minor team and he’d been helping out there too, before they were knocked out of the championship recently. 

“It’s funny, normally you’d be getting ready for a county season,” he remarks. “I’d be right in the thick of it. So this is very unusual for me to have zero teams to think about. I’d never normally stop.”

He’ll be writing a newspaper column next season, but TV punditry is “not part of the plans” as it stands. Away from sport, the new series of Ireland’s Fittest Family is on the way back to our screens and he hopes his Davy’s Toughest Team show will also return for a second season.

Elsewhere, he’ll be using his newfound free time to work on his uncle John’s farm.

“He moved in with us four years ago, he has Parkinson’s,” Fitzgerald explains. “He’s the same guy that brought me to every hurling match when I was younger. I would have gone out to his farm every weekend from about five or six years age.

“I would have been with him of a Friday night right through to a Sunday, getting up, milking the cows at 5, 6, 7 in the morning, going delivering the milk, doing the farm jobs, going to a game. So the wheel has turned.

“He has moved in with us the last few years. I now have to get a bit more stuck into the farm. And I have kind of neglected it the last few years. So I have to get stuck into it a bit more.

“John was very good to me when I was younger. It isn’t easy. I definitely will be around a bit more. The biggest thing to John, my uncle, was his farm, he took his farm very seriously.

“I have let that go a bit. I’ve got to make sure that I get that back as good as I can. Trust me, that’ll take a lot of work because I’ll need a lot of help from a lot of different people out there.

“There’s one or two things in my own private life that’s happening, that I’m really looking forward to. I’ll put it to you this way, I’m not a fella that will sit on my backside. I have to be doing stuff. It just won’t be with a senior inter-county team.”

It’s clear the fire still burns bright in Fitzgerald as he awaits his next managerial job in hurling.

“I’d like to think I’ve done pretty well where I’ve been. If the right opportunity comes up, maybe (I’ll return to inter-county), yeah.

“There’ll always be a new challenge out there, and I’ve a feeling I’ll be up for it. That’s the type of character I am.”

davy-fitzgerald Davy Fitzgerald with coach Niall Corcoran before Wexford played Laois in the league last season. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

For the time being, however, he’s looking forward to returning to the role of spectator.

“I love just going to hurling matches, going to watch. I’ll still be there, looking. I mightn’t be involved, but I’ll be excited and I might make a few notes no matter what the story is.

“I love just going and seeing what they are trying to do, what formation are they working on? Are they playing this type of ball a bit more? I’d be excited just going to hurling matches anyway.”

He’s also keen to make full use of his time out by studying other sports to glean what he can from them.

“I have different ideas about other sports I want to go and learn stuff from,” he remarks. “I’m a believer that what I did in management 10 years ago wouldn’t be worth a damn today.

“You have to keep involving, learning and be prepared to learn. That’s what I believe. I’m definitely going to explore other sports, I have the chance now to do that.

“I’ll reach out to a few people in different industries and see can I learn bits and pieces. Even if I don’t get involved again I’d love to see how other sports operate.

“I have a few in my head and they’d be high-end enough. I’d love to see how they operate because I’m a person that loves to learn as much as I can.”

Over his time as a manager, Fitzgerald says his “understanding of the player has definitely become better.” He was a more ruthless figure when he started out but over time learned that the arm around the shoulder approach is more effective with the modern player.

“You’re learning all the time,” he explains. “My job is to try and get the best out of that bunch that I can. I think understanding the individual is very important.

“I think a lot of those Wexford guys know that they could ring me. I think a lot of the Clare guys knew that if they really wanted something, all they have to do is ring me.

“You have to think about it, 34 or 35 players in a panel, how do you keep 35 players happy? You can only play 15 of them. That’s the bottom line.

“Are some of them going to think, ‘I should be playing’? Of course. Is that going to create a bit of negativity, yeah. I try my best to make all of them feel OK.

“Do I push the buttons of some players at some times and they mightn’t like it? Yeah. But will they perform better? Yeah. I’ll put the arm around other players.”

IFF Final 28th Aug 2021_49 Fitzgerald is a Londis ambassador. Source: Kyran O'Brien

During his time in Wexford, he once revealed he did not give team-talks before big games. He refused to go into detail at the time about what methods he employed instead of the traditional dressing-room speech.

Asked to shed light now on his unusual approach, he explains: “My belief is that you should have most of your work done the week before. The last two or three days, if I haven’t got it right, then you are wasting your time. That’s my belief.

“On the day of a game, the less you say the better. Making a few changes is more important than actually talking. You might need a stern talk at some point.

“With Wexford, our physio would bring out the guitar and we’d throw out a tune before we’d go out. Why not make them feel good? Why not?

“I want players going out feeling good, feeling loose. Something like that. They might come up with their own poem. We’ve done that before as well, something that means something. It has to have a bit of meaning, and a bit of freedom before you go and play.

“You’re going into an arena, I don’t want you tight, tense or nervous about making mistakes. That’s how I think I’ve evolved a bit more over the last few years. I mightn’t have been like that the first number of years. Definitely the last few, I’d like to be more like that.

“When I was with Clare, and so-called great managers who are with clubs or whatever… There would only be one way, boy, nearly take the dressing room door down and go out.

“We have a different generation, different people. You have to look at things differently. What we did wouldn’t work now, for definite.”

Finally, he addresses Paul Galvin’s remarks from May where he claimed Fitzgerald’s “interference” made things difficult for the then-Wexford football manager.

The Kerry legend said his hurling counterpart “wanted the training ground to himself” and called up players to the hurling panel after they were dropped from Galvin’s squad.

“Davy’s a wily old fox,” added Galvin, before later tweeting that the Clare man “loves to play the victim when it suits him.”

“That’s not true,” Fitzgerald says. “100% not true. 

“Very (angry to hear that) but I’m not getting into it. I know the truth and so do the people in the county board and in Wexford, in the training centre. 

“Paul can think what he likes.  Whatever he wants to say, that’s fine. I’m not going to say anything bad about Paul Galvin. 

“We’re all entitled to opinions and he can have his.”

***

Londis are running a competition to give one lucky school or club a chance to win a training session with Davy Fitzgerald. Find out more here.

Originally published at 15.55

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Kevin O'Brien

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