Davy Fitz: 'I don't think you can just pick two teams and throw them into a league final'

The Wexford boss feels the GAA should revisit the decision not to play the concluding stages of the Division 1 National Hurling League.

LAST UPDATE | 30 Sep 2020

2020 HAS BEEN a strange year in many ways, but Davy Fitzgerald has kept on winning. 

ciaran-hassett-paudie-fitzpatrick-colm-fitzgerald-coach-davy-fitzgerald-tim-crowe-and-noel-purcell-celebrate Sixmilebridge’s Ciaran Hassett, Paudie Fitzpatrick, Colm Fitzgerald, coach Davy Fitzgerald, Timmy Crowe and Noel Purcell celebrate their Clare SHC success. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

In 2019 arrived a Leinster hurling success with Wexford in addition to the Clare title delivered by the Sixmilebridge side he coaches.

This year, the trend has continued.

Last weekend, the ‘Bridge became the first club to string together back-to-back Clare SHC crowns since Crusheen in 2011.  

Fitzgerald, working with his native club under manager Tim Crowe, says their 15th county title victory wasn’t lessened by the reduced numbers allowed inside Cusack Park. 

“The weekend was pretty special, to tell you the truth,” said the former All-Ireland winning player and manager.

“If you take it from March right through to June, it was a serious few months for a number of reasons. You couldn’t get together. I was worried about well-being of players and that. To have them out and doing a bit was great.

“Then to get the matches on, to end up in a county final and to end up winning it, it’s very special. It’s just so special you wouldn’t believe it.

“On Sunday, okay there were 200 supporters in there and they made enough noise. Was it different? Yes it was. But to tell you the truth once the game is on it’s a game of hurling.

“That’s what you grew up doing and you want to be competitive and we had two competitive teams. That’s all you want, to be out there playing the ball and letting yourself go.

“They’re a unique bunch of players. I think for these players they’ve been wrote off a lot, I know at the start of the year that there was a question mark that they wouldn’t do back-to-back over them and we used that a good bit.

“There was talks that, ‘our backline isn’t good’, was said over a number of years. I find it the more you motivate these lads and get them up for a challenge, they love a challenge.”

His focus now switches fully to Wexford, where a Leinster semi-final looms against Galway on 31 October. While the final two rounds of the National Football League will be concluded prior to the All-Ireland SFC, no such opportunity has been afforded to the Division 1 hurling outfits. 

Wexford were into the league quarter-finals prior to the season being halted. Croke Park opted to send the top teams in either group – Limerick and Clare – into the final. Because the neighbours are due to clash in the Munster semi-final on 25 October, that game will double up as the league decider.

“Listen a National League title is very important,” he said. “I grew up watching Clare National Leagues, that’s what got me hurling was seeing Clare win their National Leagues under Father Harry Bohan and it inspired me.

“I 100% believe that it’s not the right way to do what they’ve just done. We’re still in the National League, we lost one game, we’re in the quarter-final and we’re there on merit.

“The same as Galway are, I think Kilkenny and Waterford and there. I just think it was premature to do what they did and I don’t think it’s the right call. That’s my honest opinion. I don’t think you can just pick two teams and throw them into a league final.”

eirgrid-gaa-official-timing-sponsorship-launch Davy Fitzgerald at the EirGrid Official Timing Sponsorship launch. Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

He added that “100% I’d like them to revisit it”, suggesting running off the competition before the 2021 league begins next year.

“I think it’s important to finish out,” he continued. “If you start a competition a certain way, you can’t change in the middle of a competition is my honest view. You can’t change a competition like that, you can’t just pick two teams and throw them into a final.

“That’s not the way it works. And I know the year that’s in it, I accept all that.

“The Clare boys and the Limerick lads their only focus will be the Munster quarter-final, to get through that, to get to a semi-final. It does devalue it. The National League has its own standing, the Allianz League has been brilliant, and I’d like it to remain that way.”

Wexford received criticism for scheduling their hurling championship to run-off before the football competition commenced, with many accusing the Clare man of orchestrating it so he’d have early access to the county hurlers.

“A lot of people jumped on that bandwagon,” he said. “All I can tell you is for the last few weekends I’m down about 15 to 17 players.

We have a lot of injuries at the moment.

“You’ve got to accept it, it’s part and parcel of it. Hopefully in a few weeks…we have [had] a few of our main guys down for probably the last two or three weeks. Hopefully within the next two or three we’ll get them back.

“95% of our lads play football and we have 10 lads in county finals this weekend, that’s for sure, and I probably won’t be having them until the middle of the week, that’s for definite.

“I thought it was a really good idea and definitely from an injury prevention point of view not to be switching codes every second week is a good idea. Was there a lot of stick going? There was. But in fairness to our county chairman he has a vision, he believes in doing things right, he doesn’t mind what other counties think. 

“I was a bit disappointed,” he added, “that we were accused of that.” 

davy-fitzgerald Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

He initially signed up to Wexford for two years before agreeing to stay for a third last winter. With his deal set to expire after the 2020 campaign Fitzgerald says he hasn’t thought to his plans for next year just yet.

“Listen, I was given two years so my thoughts are to get this year out of the way – this has been a very strange year.

“The short turnaround, it will be…I don’t actually know or haven’t talked to anybody about what’s going to happen next year, that’s being honest with you. I presume it probably will be a fairly short turnaround.”

From a personal point of view, Fitzgerald said he used the lockdown to focus on his own health. He did plenty of walking and running, got back on the bike, watched his calories and as a result lost “nice bit of weight” that he is determined to keep off.

“I feel way better, more energetic,” he said.

“But I find the last few weeks, since I’m up and down to Wexford maybe, I have neglected that a small bit. I’ve got to be wary of that.”

Because of his history of heart surgery and having stents fitted, he falls into the category of a person with an underlying health condition but never came close to stepping away from his Wexford duties.

“Listen, does it come into your head, of course it does. I was like everybody else.

“Was it a scary time at the start? Of course it was. Especially when you have a condition like that it is. The first month or two definitely helped myself get into a better place that I could take care of myself. 

“But now it comes down to personal responsibility and trying to mind myself as much as I can and be precautious.

“The way I see life, even the mental side of things, for me, getting out and meeting a few people, I think it’s so important. I have five stents, but I want to be involved.

“It’s my own personal choice to get out there and be involved. There is risks. I am prepared to take em. I want to be as careful as I can in the meantime, but I don’t want to stop my life, but I am aware of stuff I need to do better.

eirgrid-gaa-official-timing-sponsorship-launch Fitzgerald pictured at the EirGrid Official Timing Sponsorship launch. Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

“I’m a lot more conscious about sanitising and stuff like that, about not hugging guys and touching off guys. I’ve five stents in so I’m a bit more wary. But I am one of these guys who want to get out and get on with things. I just need to be as sensible as I possibly can, try and adhere to as many guidelines as I can.

“I am way more conscious of stuff. It’s definitely a lot different than what we’ve known for as many years as have been in it. You’re a lot more aware of things.”

And as for life lessons he took on board during the past few months, he said: “Do you know one of the big things I will take out of this is to spend more time around my Mam or Dad if I can.

“I really enjoy going down to Mam and Dad a lot more. I live a very short distance from them. Spending time with the people that really matter instead of rushing around the place.

“It’s spending time with the people that really matter in your life, giving them a bit more time and making sure that you are as healthy as you possibly can be. It was massive for me, in them things. Very important.

“I can actually remember one evening, my sister lives right beside my Mam and Dad, just being out at her place and two or three of the neighbours passed up the road. 

“We were well spread out but we were just mad to chat and talk away. We must have spent 20 minutes, half an hour, just talking away. You know what, that had been all lost. 

“That was something that we used to do years and years ago and it was actually fun, actually good. You were mad to talk to people that you mightn’t have talked to because you were rushing around the place. 

“It’s kind of a reconnect thing that happened, even for me I have a look at things now. I find myself flat to the mat at the moment but even in the last week or two there were a few times when I just threw down my phone and didn’t bother with it. 

“I wouldn’t have done that before and I don’t think that’s any harm. 

“I actually changed my number recently because I was getting absolutely hammered with different things. It’s just nice to have your own bit of space and your own bit of time. 

“I have probably appreciated that way more in lockdown, that I got that bit of time.”

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