THE worm turned for Davy Fitz in the 2016 National League semi-final. Clare 4-22 Kilkenny 2-17. He’d finally beaten Brian Cody in a match that mattered.
You know how this story begins. It begins like one of those apocalyptic disaster movies. A black and amber asteroid smashes into the Dublin 3 area at a million miles an hour in September 2008. The unfortunate fall guy is the Waterford manager, one of the few people who hadn’t heeded the warnings to abandon the city beforehand.
Emerging from the wreckage, after he’d roared and bawled in the dressing room afterwards, Fitzgerald summoned sufficient perspective to declare that Kilkenny would — o bizarre thought! — be beaten some day, and that he wanted to be the manager to take them down.
Although that particular honour would fall to Liam Sheedy two years later, 2008 put iron into Fitzgerald’s soul. He kept coming back for more against Cody, with Waterford achieving respectability if not quite redemption in the All-Ireland semi-finals of 2009 and ’11 and, upon his return home, a chrysalis Clare suffering a nine-point defeat in the 2012 league semi-final.
There was nothing personal about the latter affair, of course. It was simply a case of Kilkenny letting these newcomers to town know who was the sheriff, and who was going to remain the sheriff.
And then, one by one, Kilkenny’s made men drifted off into retirement. Nobody emerged to fill the ranks. Hurling changed. The 2016 league semi-final not only saw Davy finally beat Cody in a match that mattered, it saw him do a job on him. A year later Davy moved to the far side of the country — but the worm has stayed turned.
Check out his record with Wexford against the old enemy. Two wins, plus a draw, out of four in the championship; two wins out of four in the National League; and three wins out of four in the Walsh Cup, including a free-taking duel to win the competition two years ago.
And don’t dream of scoffing that it was “only the Walsh Cup”. Not to Wexford, it wasn’t. It never is. Not back in 1996, when victory in the Walsh Cup set off a virtuous circle that led to provincial and national silverware, and not now.
Hence, one is obliged to take issue with the home supporters who trudged out of Wexford Park a fortnight ago following the defeat by Clare, nodding sagely that they might be “better off out of it”.
Please! A league triumph cannot possibly do the county any harm. A first title in the competition in 47 years would constitute as significant an achievement for Davy as a first Leinster title in 15, indeed.
It is not hard to imagine the relish with which Davy is looking forward to tomorrow’s clash with Kilkenny, all the more so now that he’ll have Lee Chin and Diarmuid O’Keeffe to call on again. Cody’s existence has been a boon, albeit initially heavily disguised, for him — an eternal measuring tape, a chess opponent, a monument from under whose giant shadow he eventually escaped.
His words illustrate it. For a man with a track record of picking silly fights, Davy has taken good care to speak consistently respectfully of Cody, and understandably so. One does not disrespect the capo di tutti capi, not even when his family have fallen on hard times.
Cody’s view of Davy? The days when he may have regarded him as an irritant are long gone. He’s there everywhere Cody turns and, worse, he’s outthinking him. Look at last year’s Leinster final, where Wexford’s lines were relentlessly scripted, their players aware of their entrances and exits.
Kilkenny had a vague notion of getting the ball to TJ and letting him extemporise. Two things happened in the closing 10 minutes.
Kilkenny panicked, and Wexford’s comfort and familiarity with the kind of game they were playing saw them home.
We can safely assume that Cody hates every minute of this new dispensation.
New ground will have to be broken for both counties to go a stage further this season. In Wexford’s case, it entails finding enough good subs to facilitate a 20-man game on a hot day in high summer. It looks a tall order — the well of U21 talent from a couple of years ago has been thoroughly plumbed and there’s nobody not on the panel who should be.
Kilkenny? Simples — learn how to hit the net again. While it has become a cliché at this time of year to declare ahead of any given fixture that Team A “don’t have to win but they must achieve X, Y, or Z”, regardless of the result tomorrow the visitors to Slaneyside need to score goals. At any rate, they need to create goalscoring chances, which they didn’t in the Leinster final.
As for their lobotomised approach in the second half against Tipperary, let’s not go there again.
Scoring goals requires better coaching, and among Kilkenny’s new management team are two former forwards of note. One of them hit the match-winning goal in two All-Ireland finals. The other is DJ Carey.
Thing is, both Carey and Martin Comerford were unique, each in his own very different way. Can intuitive, uncoachable players coach players in their turn?
Tomorrow may provide a hint.
Mark Coleman’s injury-time gaisce for UCC last weekend predictably brought renewed calls for a converted sideline cut to be made a two-pointer. Here are three reasons why such calls should be resisted.
Back in the 1950s the great Josie Gallagher took his frees off the ground.
In The Greatest Hurling Decade, that most elegantly written of books on the sport, Nicky Furlong talks of the 1950 National League final in which Galway won a free 30 yards out near the sideline.
Gallagher “sauntered over and cut it off the ground over the bar as if he were lobbing an egg into a box of straw”.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) February 8, 2020
Gallagher didn’t receive a bonus point for every successful such flake, though, and nobody suggested that he should.
As regular viewers of the programme will know, the concept of Expected Goals (xG) - a tool that adds up the quantity and quality of scoring chances a team creates and calculates how many goals they could thus have expected — has become so entrenched in soccer as to feature on Match of the Day.
Naturally xG took a couple of years to become accepted.
In his book The Expected Goals Philosophy, James Tippett argues that soccer “needs influential people to go against the herd from time to time in order to promote intelligent debate”.
As was demonstrated during the Great Sweeper Controversy a few years back, the remark applies equally to hurling