His backroom team rushed to shake his hand and there was even a warm embrace with county board secretary Margaret Doyle.
As league openers go, Wexford’s latest hurling appointment couldn’t have asked for much more.
In truth, this Division 1B fixture needed to go favourably for Fitzgerald. With next weekend’s assignment taking them to Salthill, February had the potential to get very bleak very fast were Limerick not taken on home soil.
Further down the sideline, John Kiely cut a disappointed figure. The new Limerick manager had approached referee Diarmuid Kirwan at half-time but chose not to bother him at the final whistle.
As it transpired, he was simply holding fire until surrounded by the fourth estate.
The concession of an unanswered 1-7 between the 49th and 63rd minute, which saw the hosts come from five down to lead by five approaching the finish was ultimately what condemned Limerick to a first league defeat to the Model County since 2005.
Kiely, though, felt the visitors had been let down by the Cork referee.
Of significant frustration was Kirwan’s decision not to award David Dempsey a second-half penalty after the centre-forward had been upended by goalkeeper Mark Fanning. The Wexford keeper was later yellow-carded for another challenge on Dempsey.
“David Dempsey was clean through on goal [for a second time]. The goalkeeper hacks him down so hard that he injures himself. And nothing. He should have been sent off at that stage,” Kiely said.
“It wasn’t just one or two decisions, it was far more than that. We attacked their 21-yard line and we were hacked down repeatedly.
"We got lots of frees outside their 65, we didn’t get the ones we were looking for inside the opposition 21. It is very disappointing and not what you expect at this level.”
He added: “It was there all afternoon. It was just a disaster. It is hard to hurl with a fella on your back. It is hard enough to carry yourself without carrying someone else.”
The visiting party played with the wind in the opening period and were 0-7 to 0-2 in front by the close of the first quarter, with Peter Casey (0-2), Graeme Mulcahy (0-2), Diarmuid Byrnes (free), Seamus Hickey and Cian Lynch writing themselves onto the scoresheet.
They didn’t push on, however. The home side weren’t offering much at the other end and finished the half with only one scorer — Conor McDonald — but worked ferociously hard to contain their opponents.
Shaun Murphy mopped up a significant amount of ball in front of the Limerick full-forward line, while Aidan Nolan, Conor McDonald and Barry Carton crowded the midfield sector and made life difficult for the men wearing green.
The interval scoreline read 0-10 to 0-4 in favour of Kiely’s troops and while Gearoid Hegarty moved them further clear upon the change of ends, Fanning produced a fine save to keep out a David Dempsey goal chance. From there to the finish, the winners would outscore their opponents by 1-10 to 0-3.
The shift in momentum began with three points on the bounce, the second of which was thrown over by Lee Chin on 40 minutes — the wing- forward becoming the first Wexford player outside of McDonald to find the target.
A Peter Casey free stemming from Limerick’s first penalty shout was their last score for 23 minutes.
There followed white flags from McDonald (0-2), Harry Kehoe, Diarmuid O’Keeffe, Podge Doran and Lee Chin to edge Wexford in front for the first time at 0-13 to 0-12.
There was a chance to level matters, but Diarmuid Byrnes was off target. The resulting puckout was carried by the wind into the Limerick goalmouth. The sliotar broke to Conor McDonald and he beat Nicky Quaid with a low strike.
“I’m absolutely delighted with the fighting quality we showed,” said Fitzgerald.
“We were six down. It isn’t easy tag that back. There was no panic at half-time, though. We knew we’d get the opportunities. You saw in the second half, we won a lot of hard ball which is important.
"Let’s not get carried away down here. I know we haven’t beaten them in a long time so that is a massive plus for us, but there is still a lot of work to be done.”
C McDonald (1-8, 0-4 frees, 0-1 ’65); P Doran, L Chin (0-2 each); D O’Keeffe, H Kehoe (0-1 each).
P Casey (0-5, 0-3 frees); G Mulcahy (0-2); D Byrnes (0-1 free), D Hannon, S Hickey, J Ryan, G Hegarty, J Fitzgibbon (0-1 free), C Lynch (0-1 each).
M Fanning; E Moore, L Ryan, J Breen; S Donohue, M O’Hanlon, D O’Keeffe; S Murphy, A Maddock; B Carton, A Nolan, L Chin; P Morris, D Redmond, C McDonald.
P Doran for Maddock (41 mins); H Kehoe for Morris (47); N Kirwan for Redmond (56); J O’Connor for Carton (71).
N Quaid; S Cahill, R McCarthy, M Casey; S Hickey, D Hannon, D Byrnes; P Browne, J Ryan; G Hegarty, D Dempsey, K Hayes; P Casey, C Lynch, G Mulcahy.
J Fitzgibbon for Ryan (45 mins); A Dempsey for Hegarty (48); T Morrissey for Hayes (64); P Ryan for Browne (65).
D Kirwan (Cork)
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