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Davy Fitz: 'I do fear leaving it, not being there, because I’ll miss it'

Juggling Wexford and Sixmilebridge roles, facing into the unknown when he’ll stop being a manager and why he keeps going after years on the sideline.

Davy Fitzgerald at Chadwicks Wexford Park yesterday.
Davy Fitzgerald at Chadwicks Wexford Park yesterday.
Image: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

DAVY FITZGERALD RETURNED last night to the training ground at home in Sixmilebridge.

After Wexford’s Liam MacCarthy Cup dreams slipped agonisingly away in a rollercoaster semi-final against Tipperary last August, he had gone back to the coalface of Clare hurling.

Coaching was his role and he helped steer his native club to lift the Canon Hamilton trophy in Ennis last October.

A few weeks before that Clare decider, Fitzgerald had nailed his colours to the Wexford mast for another two years. After a spell of feverish speculation over his managerial future, he committed once more to those long treks to the south-east.

And if Wexford commands so much of his attention, he has still opted to pitch in again with Sixmilebridge for the coming season.

It’s compelling evidence of how much hurling consumes him.

“It’s probably a bit much if I’m totally honest about it,” he admitted yesterday. Fitzgerald was in Wexford Park as a long-term agreement was signed by Chadwicks and Wexford GAA involving the naming rights of the county ground on the Clonard Road.

“The fact that the club found it difficult to get someone last year I was fair happy to help them out. You know what, not being manager is absolutely great. Tim (Crowe) is doing a great job so I just have to turn up for once, I don’t have to think about all the other stuff. I just turn up and I do training and I come up with the tactics or whatever.”

Even on his wedding weekend last October, a hurling training session was not completely absent from his agenda.

“It was the next day,” laughs Fitzgerald.

“We had a late enough night and in fairness to Sharon I said, ‘the lads are training, we’re in the county semi-final the next week’. It was a woeful day, I’ll tell you, a woeful day, you wouldn’t put a dog out in it. But I felt great after it and back out for the night after it, we had the afters that night.

“But she knows kind of that that’s the way I am. I did not miss a club game in 20 years for my club, I did not miss one, never missed one in 20 years. I got taken off with the top of my finger in the county semi-final one year. I was back the following year.

“I’m very proud of that, that I didn’t. Love being able to do that. The way I look at it is, November, I have a chance then to go away and do something and the weather isn’t hectic around here either so it’s grand. I don’t know how Sharon feels about that but that’s the way I look at it.”

noel-purcell-celebrates-with-davy-fitzgerald Sixmilebridge player Noel Purcell celebrates with Davy Fitzgerald after last year's Clare county senior final. Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

The inter-county game has dominated Fitzgerald’s life for three decades. Rising through the Clare underage ranks, establishing himself as a senior goalkeeper of renown. Then there have been managerial spells with Waterford, Clare and now Wexford.

He knows he cannot keep going in such demanding positions indefinitely.

“To tell you honestly, I’m building up one or two things. I’m not a person who could do nothing. I love thinking of different things whether it’s Fittest Family – I’ve another programme or two that’s coming.

“It’s going to happen. whether it’s sooner rather than later I don’t know. It could be. I do fear leaving it, not being there because I’ll miss it. But it will happen.

“Sometimes when players finish at inter-county level I often worry about them, that they’ve been working at such a high level, such an intensity, do we just forget about them then? It’s a big void.

“When you’re in that thing all the time, operating under pressure, and then you’ve nothing. That’s going from a fair high down to a fair low. I’m trying to prepare myself with two or three different projects in case that day comes.

“Because you don’t know in this game. The longevity, I’m delighted I got to play 18 or 19 years for Clare. Delighted I’m in top level management for 12 and a bit years. It doesn’t happen where you get that type of run so I’ve been really fortunate, really lucky. I’m still only 48 – with five stents. But I’m hanging in there.”

That illustrates the physical impact of the time and graft he has put in at the top level of hurling.

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“It does take its toll. If I told you the hours I put in during the week you wouldn’t believe it – but I love it. the physical thing, the five stents – I’ve people saying to me “it’s down to the way you are on the sideline”. Unfortunately, my mam’s side of the family, like she’s lost a lot of brothers young. It’s in the genes. I keep saying to her, “f**k ma, I got your genes”. That’s it.

“Everyone says they think of me like my da or whatever – it’s kinda like my mam. Because she’s fiery. You should see playing cards, if you’re playing with her, I’d be playing every Thursday with her the last number of years, which I enjoy more than anything.

“It’s just unfortunate, her family, there is massive heart disease in it. might it be easier for me not to be involved? But is that living. I’ll convince myself in my own mind that I’ll live to whatever age – whether it happens or not I don’t know. But I like doing what I do.

“And I think it’s important that you live your life in a way that you’re happy with. There is no point being afraid to do stuff. If you’re afraid to do stuff guys, I don’t know, are you really living?”

If he is immersed in Wexford’s 2020 fortunes now, last winter he was on the cusp of writing off that chapter of his sporting career.

“No, I was 100% probably not coming back. On the Sunday before the Thursday, I was 100% gone. There was nine or ten people really close to me, and nine of them had said to me ‘Davy, you can’t keep doing that journey.’

“There was three reasons, and the travel was only the third reason and there were two very personal reasons which I told to boys and explained to them. It hadn’t anything to do with another team, it was really personal issues at home and I don’t want it coming out in the public. It was to do with people very close to me and not as straightforward as you think.

“Then on Wednesday I did a complete u-turn. A text and a call that I got definitely just got something in my head and I remember going home to Sharon on the Wednesday night and I was pretty emotional and I said ‘I just can’t go, I just can’t go.’

“I think you see I clicked with this crowd here 100%. I hope it lasts, I don’t know if things like that every last but it feels pretty good. The way myself and the lads are, the way the crowd is, we actually bounce of each other here. This place is rocking 90% of the time which is great and I kind of love that.”

davy-fitzgerald-speaks-to-his-team-after-the-game Davy Fitzgerald speaking to the Wexford team after last year's loss to Tipperary

It’s put to him that it sounds like the language of an addict, hurling the substance that consumes him.

“I could be man. Between the highs and the lows, when you get to there it’s very important that you bring yourself back down. So after most games I won’t go out, no matter what the story is, I’ll go up and I’ll watch TV in order to bring myself (down), to be level.

“I would be very calm most of the time. I love thinking stuff out. I love having my own free time too, going for a walk, going to the cinema, whatever. You like having your own free time as well which is great. I live out in the middle of no place and I love it.

“It’ll take you a few days no matter what, when you’re beaten, whether you’re hammered or beaten by a point, trust me it does take a few days. You feel absolutely terrible inside. Then you’ll start to get over it and you’ll come back in again and you’re back on the horse again. And it’s grand.

“I still get that feeling where you’re absolutely hurting at the bit. Like, when Clare beat us this year, hurting at the bit, when Tipp beat us last year, hurting at the bit. I think I’ve learnt to deal with stuff better but does it still hurt? If it doesn’t still hurt you, you’re not doing your job 110%, you’re faking it. You have to be in at 110%.”

wexford-celebrate-with-the-bob-okeeffe-cup Wexford players celebrate last year with the Bob O'Keeffe Cup Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Wexford hurling project continues to excite him, working with the current bunch of players, approaching every training session with a sense of purpose. They are in line for a spot in the hurling league knockout stages and then will start the defence of their Leinster crown in the summer.

Plenty upcoming challenges to get set for.

“If you were to offer me playing or management I’d take the playing every day of the week, every day of the week, I was lucky to be involved with great players. But I wouldn’t swap anything. I want to be that way. What you’ve achieved….I never think of anything what’s done, it’s ‘where can I go next? How can I evolve? How can I get better?’

“If I give you an exercise to look at me for the whole 70 minutes, there will be a lot of that where you won’t see emotion. But God I feel it. I am a passionate guy. You think to yourself, I’ve a lot of stuff done and won, that maybe it would be wearing off. The best victory you can ever have is the next one. You can never really look back.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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