Across Walsh Cup, Division 1A, 1B last year, league knockout matches, and Championship, it’s a return that has the county hailing him as one of their own.
Although this is the second of a three-year agreement and Fitzgerald will again review his situation after this season, there is a keenness in the county to retain his services beyond 2019.
Despite the quick turn-around of matches, he has chosen to keep his usual routine of commuting from Sixmilebridge, staying in Wexford only around matchday. The logistics are challenging but as his team go in search of their third straight Leinster SHC win this evening, the arrangement has had its plusses for both sides.
“I enjoy going to training. The supporters seem happy. We stayed in Division 1A, which is a massive financial thing for Wexford and the county in general. We’re hopefully going to be in the latter stages of the Championship, please God. We’ve done a lot of good things so far and we just want to be competitive. We’re only a year-and-a-half into this. There is still a lot to learn but they’re doing very well.”
When Fitzgerald speaks like that, it’s difficult to believe he won’t remain on for at least one more foray but then he would also appreciate he has been active in inter-county management ever since he retired with Clare 10 years ago.
The need for a break is something he has put off for quite some time, although some of those closest to him haven’t lost faith that the 46-year-old might take their advice and put the feet up for at least 12 months.
He wouldn’t admit to that — not now when Championship fills his nostrils — but neither would he agree that it’s now a question of first, second, or third place for Wexford in Leinster and they have at the least secured a place in the preliminary quarter-finals.
Only Dublin can catch them but the decision by Sky Sports to switch from televising their final round game in Galway to the Meath-Tyrone qualifier would indicate the lack of belief that any of the three teams with four points — Wexford, Galway, and Kilkenny — will fall out of those spots.
What worries Fitzgerald most ahead of facing Galway is as much Wexford’s last two matches in Innovate Wexford Park as the power of the opposition. He ranks the nine-point Division 1 semi-final loss to Kilkenny at home as “the poorest one by a long shot” during his time in charge”.
The tight turnover of Dublin there last Sunday week wasn’t much to his liking either.
“We didn’t play well there the last day. It was the first one (SHC game) since I’ve been there that we haven’t played well.”
Looking ahead to facing Kilkenny again in Nowlan Park tomorrow week, in what should determine the Leinster final line-up, is not on his radar even if he knows whatever the result this evening Wexford must put themselves back in neutral.
“You can’t look ahead to the other game. All I know is to play Galway and Kilkenny in your last two games isn’t ideal. I love the Championship; I just wanted another extra week or two instead of running it over five weeks. Just give it an extra week or two and that isn’t a whole pile. Just give it that much more and I think you will have an incredible Championship. The attendances are pointing towards that.”
Like Offaly demonstrated against Wexford in Tullamore, Fitzgerald fears Galway come at the worst possible time for his side as they go into their third game in 13 days while the All-Ireland champions had a two-week break between their opening two matches.
“It’s a big ask for us. I’ve said it before but the thing that bothers me is us having to play four weeks in a row. Physically, this is going to be a very demanding game. When you play Galway, you’ll cover a lot of ground and there will be a lot of hits and it’ll be an exciting game. We know that this is going to be very demanding. They’re very strong in the air and good in a lot of different aspects. We have to get a lot right to win.”
Watching Galway cruise against Kilkenny in Salthill last Sunday, Fitzgerald knows what’s in store.
His record against them in charge of Wexford reads two wins and one defeat, that disappointment obviously coming in last year’s Leinster final, but those positives both came early in the season when Galway were only shaking off the hibernation. Now they are very much awake.
“We’re playing the All-Ireland champions and from what I saw of their last game they’re the best team in the Championship without a shadow of a doubt. They are very, very strong physically all over the field but the most important thing is they’re able to play.
“They’re able to move the ball, pull numbers back the field, they’re able to use the field. They’ve a lot of things going for them and it’s just not their strength; they’re well-organised.”
Did you know?
Wexford lead the group on scoring difference (+26) from Galway (+20) and Kilkenny (+3). All three have four points but Wexford and Galway have each played two games while Kilkenny have played three.
This will be only the 11th championship clash between the counties (the fourth in 40 years). Wexford lead 6-3, with one draw from the previous 10 games.