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Buckle up Wexford fans, you're in for a rollercoaster ride with Davy in charge

The former Clare boss will be present at Wexford Park for tomorrow’s county final between Oulart-The-Ballagh and Cloughbawn.

Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

WHEN DAVY FITZGERALD decided to step down as Clare senior hurling manager on 21 September, he could hardly have envisaged that he’d be a more than interested spectator at Wexford Park for tomorrow afternoon’s county senior hurling final between Oulart-The-Ballagh and Cloughbawn.

But on the merry-go-round that is now senior inter-county management, Fitzgerald has hopped on in Wexford and will guide the fortunes of the Slaneysiders for the next three seasons, with a review planned after year two.

And so Fitzgerald will make a round-trip of some 400km tomorrow afternoon, from Sixmilebridge to Wexford town and back again, to run the rule over some prospective panel members before he gets stuck into a real job of work ahead of the 2017 campaign.

As things stand, Fitzgerald cannot rely upon the availability of three cruciate knee ligament victims next year.

Andrew Shore and Shane Tomkins both underwent surgery on the same day in June while it emerged more recently that McGovern sustained the dreaded injury on duty for St Anne’s against Naomh Eanna in August.

McGovern, along with Lee Chin, was one of Wexford’s most impressive performers in 2016 but Tomkins and Shore played no part in the championship.

Tomkins, on his day, is a more than useful and combative forward, a potential John Conlon-like figure for Wexford.

Shane Tomkins Wexford's Shane Tomkins is recovering from a cruciate knee ligament injury. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

McGovern is a will-o’-the-wisp attacker, pacey, direct, low centre of gravity and well able to take a score, while Shore can play at centre-back but was earmarked for a centre-forward role during the summer by Fitzgerald’s predecessor Liam Dunne.

In that sense, Fitzgerald is behind the 8-ball straight away, while some of his early phone calls will be to ascertain Jack Guiney and Kevin Foley’s immediate plans.

Foley opted out for the championship gone by due to study commitments while Guiney decided to take himself off the panel in February.

Get those two back involved, pray for swift returns for the cruciate trio, and Fitzgerald will have something concrete to work with.

Jack Guiney Davy Fitzgerald will be hoping that Jack Guiney (pictured) will return to the Wexford squad. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Speaking to Liam Griffin recently, the legendary 1996 All-Ireland winning manager believes that Fitzgerald is poised to profit from Dunne’s “fantastic” work over the last five years.

Griffin acknowledged that losing out on a sixth year at the helm is “tough” on Dunne, who was interviewed for the position but overlooked by county board chiefs in favour of ex-Clare boss Fitzgerald.

But he says that Dunne has left behind “a good legacy”, and he’s backing Fitzgerald to build on those foundations.

“Liam’s done a fantastic job, a very difficult job to rebuild the team from when he started out.

“It’s a natural progression, (it) took him that long to build a team and a squad and sadly for him, after doing all that, the general consensus was that a new voice was required.

“That’s the prerogative of the chairman and committee to come up with that decision.

Liam Griffin Wexford's 1996 All-Ireland winning manager Liam Griffin (pictured) is predicting success for Davy Fitzgerald in Wexford. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“It’s tough on Liam but Davy will be the beneficiary of the good work he’s done and in the evolution of management in any area, even in business, you start a business and the next person brings it to another level.

“Liam did a great job and that shouldn’t be forgotten. What’s left behind is a good legacy and it’s incumbent on everybody to get behind Davy in every way.”

Fitzgerald will be anxious to hit the ground running, beginning with the Model County’s opening Division 1B fixture against Limerick next year.

And Griffin predicts that Fitzgerald will bring a dash of spice to his new role.

Liam Dunne celebrates at the final whistle Liam Dunne managed Wexford for the last five seasons. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Fitzgerald won’t tolerate players not toeing the party line (Clare’s Davy O’Halloran and Nicky O’Connell will testify to that) and if nothing else, Wexford fans are in for an interesting couple of years.

Griffin says: “Davy, first of all, is a character, an interesting character.

You need characters in our game, warts and all. If everybody was the same, it would be a very sad situation.

“He’s been very successful as a manager and was over a team that won a League title this year, an All-Ireland in 2013 and he also brought Waterford to an All-Ireland final (2008).

“He must have learned on every inch of the road and hopefully that will stand him in good stead.

Davy Fitzgerald and Liam Dunne at the end of the game Liam Dunne commiserates with Davy Fitzgerald after the 2014 All-Ireland SHC qualifier replay. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“He has a good, young, emerging team. He doesn’t have a massive amount of players but he does have a good squad.

“If he gets the players not involved for the last couple of years, and the injured players back, he should make good strides and that’s what we all want.

That’s what Liam (Dunne) wants and I know Liam was one of the first people in Wexford to wish him well. Liam is a loyal son of Wexford and always was, and gave everything he had to the senior hurling team, on and off the field.”

But Griffin warned that Fitzgerald, who’s been given a three-year term, with a review after year two, will need time to deliver.

He said: “Wexford people need to be patient. He needs a bit of time to get used to the squad and if anything good happens in the meantime, that’s a bonus.

“Wexford have the capacity for a few big hits but to do it consistently is the challenge.

“Within the next two years, you could see 11 or 12 players under the age of 25.”

Fitzgerald has a core group of established players to work with, along with graduates from the U21 teams that won three successive Leinster U21 titles from 2013-2015.

Tony Kelly lifts the trophy Clare beat Wexford to claim a third successive Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 crown in 2014. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

You could argue that there are parallels between Wexford’s underage success and the Clare teams that surged to three successive All-Ireland U21 titles from 2012-2014.

When Clare wrapped up the hat-trick, they beat Wexford but Wexford weren’t disgraced, losing out by 3-11 to 2-20.

Earlier that year, Fitzgerald won’t need reminding that it was Wexford who ended Clare’s reign as All-Ireland champions, defeating them after a replay in the qualifiers.

Fitzgerald knows there’s talent in Wexford and he’ll feel confident of harnessing it.

And while Dunne was deemed surplus to requirements, he still managed to bring Wexford to quarter-finals twice in the last three years.

And Fitzgerald, being Fitzgerald, will carry a burning desire to prove his doubters wrong.

He’ll view this as a challenge to relish, far from the snipers he feels were always lurking in the hills of Clare. Privately, Fitzgerald is deeply unhappy with the criticism that came his way from former players and ex-manager Ger Loughnane.

Fitzgerald prides himself on loyalty but towards the end of his Clare reign, he felt that was in short supply. It’s what he’ll demand of his Wexford players from the word go.

And if they reciprocate, who knows what Wexford could achieve?

Buckle up, this could be one hell of a ride.

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