Waterford return - Davy Fitzgerald begins the next chapter in his colourful career

2023 will mark 15th season as a senior inter-county manager.

Davy Fitzgerald.
Davy Fitzgerald.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

AND SO THE latest chapter in Davy Fitzgerald’s colourful career has commenced. 

Just days after announcing his departure as Cork camogie coach, his return for a second stint as Waterford senior hurling boss has been confirmed. 

It’s Fitzgerald’s fourth job in senior inter-county management, following previous spells over Clare and Wexford. With a combined 14 seasons of management put down at the elite level of the game, he’s easily the most experienced boss on the circuit following Brian Cody’s retirement. 

Despite various controversies that sometimes cloud his qualities, Fitzgerald has enjoyed great success in his previous jobs. He brought Waterford to the All-Ireland final and won a Munster title. He delivered All-Ireland and National League honours in Clare. With Wexford, they secured a first Leinster success in 15 years. 

After his five years with the Model County concluded, he spoke about the toll the six-hour round trip from his Sixmilebridge home had taken. He hinted that he might take a “a year or two off” from inter-county management. 

However, within a couple of months he was heavily linked with the vacant Galway job. After holding talks with Fitzgerald, the county board decided to appoint Henry Shefflin as Shane O’Neill’s replacement. 

“I’m actually at peace,” said Fitzgerald shortly after the news was announced. “I’m very happy to wish Galway and Henry the very best of luck.”

He looked set for his first campaign outside of the inter-county bubble since 1988. It wasn’t long before he cropped up with a surprising move to camogie. When Matthew Twomey’s two-year term as Cork manager was confirmed, he revealed Fitzgerald was part of his backroom team.

The Clare native remained involved in hurling through media duties with The Sunday Game and his Irish Mirror column. Following Dublin’s heavy Leinster championship defeat to Kilkenny in May, Fitzgerald offered his view on the Sunday Game highlights show about ways the Sky Blues could drastically improve.

It appeared to some like a thinly-veiled pitch for the job. 

Then the managerial merry-go-round started spinning. Colm Bonnar was “relieved of his duties” in Tipperary. Days later, they appointed Liam Cahill, which left a vacancy in Waterford.  

Until the news broke this week, Fitzgerald wasn’t thought to be in the running to take over from Cahill. A series of local contenders, Derek McGrath, Stephen Molumphy, Fergal Hartley, James O’Connor and Darragh O’Sullivan, were all mooted as viable options. 

From a Waterford perspective, it’s a sound appointment.

davy-fitzgerald-with-his-players FItzgerald with his players before the 2008 All-Ireland final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

While Fitzgerald has his critics, he’s a highly experienced manager. An All-Ireland winner as a player and boss. 

The Deise are genuine contenders for the Liam MacCarthy Cup. Following their run to the National Hurling League title in March, they were rated as the main threats to Limerick’s throne.

But their form fell off a cliff in the summer. An opening round Munster win over Tipperary and narrow defeat to Limerick, was followed by a six-point loss to Cork and 3-31 to 0-22 battering by Clare. 

A season that promised so much, ended with a whimper. 

In many ways, it’s a perfect fit. 

Fitzgerald takes over a group that were beaten in the 2020 All-Ireland final. It’s a squad with the athletic profile suited to the short-passing, running game Fitzgerald likes to employ. In Tadhg De Burca, they have one of the best sweepers in the country. 

He has always maintained this great Limerick team can be beaten. This group of players have the potential to be the team that takes John Kiely’s side down. For the moment, that potential remains untapped.

After Waterford’s Munster round-robin concluded with a heavy loss to Clare, Fitzgerald wrote: “I couldn’t believe how lethargic they all were around the field. I know Tadhg de Burca and Conor Prunty were missing but that’s no excuse for the lack of intensity and energy, the lack of bite in the tackle.

“After losing to Cork I expected Waterford to come out fighting.

“Instead, they have to be really embarrassed by that effort against a Clare team that only had five or six of their first team playing.

“I’m just finding it hard to figure out why we didn’t see that fighting spirit at any stage in the game after such a massive league campaign.

“Did they peak for the league and are now paying the price? It’s a real possibility.”

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Reinstating that fighting spirit and tailoring their physical training so they peak in the summer will be two of this top priorities next year. 

When the 2008 season started, Fitzgerald was still playing with Clare. After a fall-out with Tony Considine the year before saw him dropped, he returned to the Clare panel under new manager Mike McNamara.

By the time the year ended, he was on the sideline as Waterford manager for the All-Ireland final.

In between, he retired from playing on 31 March. By early June, he was a shock appointment as Waterford boss. Justin McCarthy resigned after losing the dressing room. Fitzgerald managed to rally a talented bunch of players, winning four games only for them to fall to a humbling defeat to Kilkenny.

In the intervening years, he’s had plenty of ups and downs. He’s older and wiser. He has undoubtedly improved as a manager.

The last time Waterford won a Munster title, Fitzgerald was a their manager. He brought them to four successive All-Ireland semi-finals during his reign. Jack O’Connor, Liam Sheedy and James Horan all returned to counties for second stints in recent years.

The first two delivered All-Ireland success on their returns, while Horan brought his native county to two finals. 

A great deal of intrigue surrounds Fitzgerald’s return to the Deise hot-seat.

Make no mistake, he remains box office viewing.

If he can take Waterford to the holy grail, it would rival all his other achievements in the game. A fascinating season awaits.

- Originally published at 06.01

About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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