Having had two stents inserted last July, the 45-year-old Wexford manager believes he is more philosophical but acknowledged he has had to make alterations to his lifestyle. “I’ve identified a few things over the last month or two that I know I have to work on even health-wise. Like, I’ve had challenges like that myself going forward. I have to get healthier myself, I want to be around in a number of years’ time. I have to listen to my body.
“Probably my doctor wouldn’t have been the happiest that I got involved with Wexford. He probably said a year or two out would do me no harm.
“When you get that little challenge you say, ‘fair enough’. I don’t know, am I going in and am I worried? A lot of people say to me, ‘You’ve it done, you’ve won everything’. I still wouldn’t be happy with that. I still want to win more. And help this crowd go on.”
Switching from his native Clare to Wexford, Fitzgerald isn’t under as much pressure. “Well, sure in Clare we’ve won 20 All-Irelands and 20 National Leagues, what would you expect?” he says tongue-in-cheek.
He’s tried to encourage players to relax too. “There was one very good hurler I talked to who was on the borderline (of the panel) and I said to him, ‘You’re pushing yourself too hard, will you just chill back and just hurl?’ Every word I say he’s taking it in and it’s ‘what did I do (wrong)?’
I said, ‘Don’t panic, just go out and do your own thing now, will ya?’
Player welfare is something he cares about even though his attitude towards it has been questioned in the past. He doesn’t mention the Davy O’Halloran/Nicky O’Connell episode in 2015 but his reference to it is obvious : “I can remember an incident that happened two years ago that absolutely hurt me unreal.
“And I was accused of being an x, y and z. I knew it was the furthest thing from the truth. And it’s hard because I’d like to think that I would be a good person.”
On an online podcast last month, his former Clare team-mate and UL manager Brian Lohan claimed Fitzgerald as Clare boss had last year trained Tony Kelly an evening or two before Kelly was supposed to line out for UL against Limerick IT, managed by Fitzgerald. Kelly picked up an injury at the session.
Fitzgerald takes issue with the picture Lohan was trying to paint of him. “I suppose I was bitterly disappointed at that. It wasn’t the first time Brian has had a go in the last year. I played with Brian for years and he’s the best full-back I’ve ever come across, phenomenal. If I was playing in goal in the morning I wouldn’t want anyone else there only him. I’m pretty good friends with him but for the last two or three years there must be some reason that he’s had a go or two.
“Just to clarify that situation on the Fitzgibbon – and this is exactly how it works – Tony Kelly wasn’t the only player picked to train that night; all the college players trained that night and they didn’t train for an hour or an hour and a half (Fitzgerald insists they trained for 30 minutes).
“Now, unfortunately that night Tony was doing a drill with Shane McNamara who tangled their legs and he tore his ligament, and I was like ‘ohhhh’. But there was another eight or 10 college players that trained the same night from different colleges.
“Now, I’ve never had a word with any other college and, being a college manager myself, this is the way I approach it.” He concluded: “I adore Brian Lohan so I do, but I just don’t understand that because there’s no point. I’ll be fair to everybody and hopefully he will see that and we can forget about it now. He’s a good man, he’s involved with a great college down there and 90% of the colleges would love to have the players they have. It’s an incredible pick.
“For me, it’s disappointing but I’m not going to carry a grudge or anything like that – it’s done, it’s over but that is the explanation 110%.” Fitzgerald is without Andrew Shore, Shane Tomkins and Liam Óg McGovern (all cruciate) for the visit of Limerick on Sunday. Jack Guiney is returning from a hamstring injury, Conor McDonald suffered an infection but should be back this week. Barry Carton could be in the shake-up but only rejoined training this past weekend.
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