The Waterford IT manager already observed first-hand the capabilities of Davy Fitzgerald’s LIT outfit and wasn’t surprised with their six-point win over the competition favourites. A week prior to the opening round of Fitzgibbon Cup games, LIT and WIT played a midweek challenge in Dr Morris Park, Thurles.
With their respective first-round clashes looming, both teams went for it. In the end LIT prevailed, and with a bit to spare too.
“They beat us somewhere between six and 10 points,” the WIT boss recalled. “Both teams were at full strength, no holding back and still they had far too much for us. We know what we are facing.
“By all accounts LIT hurled with great vigour against UL and really took the game to the favourites. UL, on paper, have an almost unbeatable team, but that counts for little, with regard to the Fitzgibbon Cup. Early February, heavy pitches and bad weather — it is about which team wants it most. We played UL in the Waterford Crystal Cup and they hit us for 2-30, LIT held them to 1-13. That says a lot about their defence. 2-16 was also a big tally for LIT to get off that UL defence because it is one of the strongest in the competition, with a lot of inter-county stars.”
As for Davy’s pre-match antics prior to the UL fixture, togging out in a separate venue and entering through bushes?
“Managers can only do so much. At the end of the day players will decide the outcome. Tony Kelly has been superb for them so far, as have a lot of the Tipperary lads. Far from it being a one-man show, Philip Ivors and Mark Gennery were impressive in the UL win as was Clare’s Cathal McInerney. We will look to counteract their strongest players while playing to our strengths.”
Bonnar led WIT to this stage a year ago, overcoming today’s opponents en route. Victory proved beyond their grasp as Mary I scored a famous victory to advance to their first ever decider. With five of the WIT rearguard graduated, there has been a rebuilding process.
“This year we had to construct a whole new defence. We lost the likes of Liam Lawlor [full-back], Noel Connors [corner-back], Stephen O’Keefe [corner-back], Wayne Hutchinson [centre-back] and Ciaran Haugh [wing-back]. We didn’t think we would go this far as a result. Fitzgibbon hurling because it is played in February and early March, means strong defences are vital. It is about which team can hold out because attacks are never going to post big tallies this early in the year.
“We lost to UCC the first day out and that was a real learning curve because UCC, in my opinion, are the strongest team in the competition. It meant our final two games were crucial, we had to win both. The pressure was on and our lads responded. We built on that then against DIT.
“Keeper Stephen O’Keefe took stick the previous weekend for conceding a sloppy goal in action for Waterford against Tipperary in the NHL but was magnificent against DIT. Two penalties were kept out and he made two more point-blank saves. They missed their goal chances and we took one that fell our way. That was the difference.”