By Brendan O’Brien
Davy Fitzgerald has revealed how close he came to walking away from Wexford, and from hurling, before a crosscountry trip by some of the county’s players persuaded him to sign up for a third season in the southeast.
The Clare man spoke at length yesterday about the daily grind involved in making the journey from his native Clare to Wexford — between 100 and 125 times a year — this past two seasons.
And in all weather.
The inclement spell that hit the country last February and March made for particularly gruelling conditions.
One trip to training met with at least three crash sites. A member of his S&C team travelling from Limerick was delayed by four hours another evening due to the traffic.
No small commitment for a man who, between his playing days and life as a manager, has been almost 30 years on the road with hurling.
It left him with a lot to mull over once Wexford left the championship at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage this summer.
“There was a small bit (to think over),” he admitted. “There was something else in the pipeline — it wasn’t managing another team, I’m not going to say what it was — but something else I would have been interested in doing, that I was looking at.”
It was an unsolicited visit to his house in Clare by half the panel that made up his mind.
Team captain Matthew O’Hanlon had called ahead to ask if they could pop by to chat and it took just five minutes after their arrival for Fitzgerald to renew his commitment.
He clearly wouldn’t have done so if he didn’t think there was more that this group of players can achieve on the field but Fitzgerald’s connection with Wexford has burrowed much deeper than the quest for mere silverware.
He knew before his fifth and final year with Clare that the time had come for a separation but he credits Wexford with rekindling his love for the scene and there was obvious affection for the squad of players in his words yesterday.
Fitzgerald mentioned how every player had hugged him in the post-match meal after their exit at Clare’s hands a few months ago.
And how so many members of the squad that couldn’t make that trip to see him in Clare had texted the same day with messages of support.
Both parties clearly feel that they are good together.
“I always have a smile on my face when I go (to Wexford). It’s kind of a rule that we have before training starts: We go into the dressing-room and the music would be on.
"But there is always a bit of banter. We’d always have some bit of scandal.
Hardship is always available in abundance.
Fitzgerald has noted with distaste the alacrity with which managers are now being criticised and, in some cases, castigated on those Sunday afternoons that deliver defeat, but it hasn’t turned a succession of capable people off the idea.
He gets a buzz from the fact Paraic Fanning, newly-installed in Waterford, joins Paul Kinnerk, Joe O’Connor and Kieran Murphy as men who once worked under him and are now operating elsewhere on the scene.
Even Liam Sheedy’s return is welcomed. Not just because of his qualities but because of the Tipperary man’s sometimes fiery nature on the sideline and the odd moment down the years when he might have had a bite about a referee.
“So I’ll have another ally out there,” he joked. The good humour is infectious, his eagerness to chew the fat curbed only by a member of the production team from Ireland’s Fittest Family, who needed him to film a scene or two for the series elsewhere in Croke Park.
You wonder what his doctor would make of all this hustle given it is just two years since he was advised to step back from hurling in view of the fact that he had just undergone a second cardiac procedure inside seven years.
“He’s not happy,” he laughed again.
“Life is there to be lived and we’ve got to live it and go through it as much as possible. You don’t know what’s around the corner. I’m in a position where I visit a lot of sick people and I don’t talk about it too much but, you know what, it makes me appreciate everything we have.
“All of us should realise that any day we can get up there and do our stuff, it’s a good day.”