Davy Fitzgerald celebrates after Wexford's Leinster final victory in 2019. Tommy Dickson/INPHO
new chapter

'What's next for me? I have not a clue' - Davy departs Wexford as focus turns to his hurling future

The Clare native brought his time in charge to a close today.

THE LAST QUESTION was most striking.

Davy Fitzgerald’s five-season spell at the helm of the Wexford hurlers had drawn to a close but naturally the thought turned to the next chapter in a hurling career that has generated success, drama and variety over the last three decades.

“What’s next for me? I have not a clue,” replied Fitzgerald, when radio presenter Alan Corcoran enquired about future plans on South East Radio’s Morning Mix today.

Fitzgerald then elaborated further on the topic.

“Have I talked to anyone? Have I considered anything else? 100% not.

“It’s the bones of 31 and a half years that I’ve been involved between playing and managing at senior level. It’s a long time to be going every single year at senior inter-county level.

“Would I have changed a thing? No. Love it. Might I have a year or two off, might I have a few years off? I don’t know what’s ahead.

“Whatever will be, will be. I’ll cherish the memories. I’ve made a lot of friends in different places between Waterford, Clare, Wexford, so many friends and that’s important to me.”

In the announcement made by Wexford GAA this morning, the accompanying statement from Fitzgerald pointed to the toll caused by the six-hour round trip from his Clare home to the south-east. It is logical to consider the draining effect of that travel and the period of over three decades spent on the county hurling treadmill. At a certain stage a break seems necessary and remaining for five seasons with Wexford must not have been a straightforward call.

The time feels right for something new, both for the manager and the players. In the cycle of this Wexford team, there was an initial rise, reaching the peak and a slide since then.

lee-chin-celebrates-with-davy-fitzgerald Lee Chin and Davy Fitzgerald celebrate after the 2019 Leinster senior hurling final. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

The opening two seasons under Fitzgerald brought incremental progress, the highlight that momentous 2017 win at home to Kilkenny, yet both campaigns concluded at the same stage in the same setting with quarter-final defeats in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

2019 was the high-water mark. Wexford emerged from a ferociously competitive Leinster round-robin series, four teams locked on five points when the table was inspected at the end, and then they won a provincial title in an exhilarating game against Kilkenny.

It was the first time the county had achieved that in 15 years, a notable feat that prompted a wild outpouring of joy. For Fitzgerald it completed a remarkable set of managerial wins after previously securing All-Ireland (Clare), Munster (Waterford) and league (Clare) accolades.

What followed was a source of regret. Wexford hurled with conviction for so long against Tipperary. Five points up in the 50th minute and three points up in the 60th minute against a team that lost John McGrath to a red card early in the second half.

But the All-Ireland final place slipped from Wexford’s grasp as Liam Sheedy’s team produced a powerful late scoring surge to win by two. 

Wexford never came close to such heights over the past two seasons. The Covid championships threw teams plans into disarray, normal preparation was scuppered. Diarmuid O’Keeffe suggested in May as he reviewed 2020 that Wexford didn’t manage to successfully tailor their fitness plan and described their provincial run ‘as tame an effort to retain a Leinster title as probably anyone has come out with’.

They weren’t alone in struggling to locate their best form. Over the last two hurling championships, Limerick are the only team unbeaten and Kilkenny the only one to have lost just once. Big names and big teams have produced a mixed bag of displays. Wexford’s 2021 season could have veered on an alternative route if they had survived their extra-time tussle with Kilkenny last month.

But it’s hard to escape the fact they have just one win in six championship outings since the 2019 Leinster final, that was at the expense of Laois this May, and they have been twice knocked out in the same way by Clare. There has been a clear pattern to the trajectory of their form and the setup looked in need of a refresh.

conor-mcdonald-after-the-game A dejected Conor McDonald after Wexford lost to Clare. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Both parties must now consider their next move. Wexford have a vacancy to fill. The high-profile names of Derek McGrath and Eddie Brennan could enter the frame. JJ Doyle took the U21 team to a pair of All-Ireland finals after his success with camogie teams.

Fitzgerald’s plans will be interesting. Is there a future role in some guise in his native Clare, despite all the off-field drama that has blazed in recent times? If another county appears on his horizon, is a role elsewhere in the Leinster championship more viable?

ciaran-hassett-paudie-fitzpatrick-colm-fitzgerald-coach-davy-fitzgerald-tim-crowe-and-noel-purcell-celebrate Davy Fitzgerald celebrates with the Sixmilebridge players. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

That will play out over time. In the short-term, he is likely to funnel his energies into hurling matters closer to home. For the past two seasons he has been double-jobbing in coaching his native Sixmilebridge. They have lifted the last two Clare senior hurling crowns, a third successive Canon Hamilton Cup win would be a historic feat for the club.

That can be the aim for the rest of 2021 with a potential bid to mount an assault further afield after being denied a Munster club campaign last year.

For Davy Fitzgerald, the hurling story will continue.

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