Davy Fitzgerald has earned a reputation as a nomadic manager who doesn’t spend too long in any one position but it’s a label Conor McDonald could never understand.
The Sixmilebridge man is beginning his fourth season in charge of Wexford, meaning that aside from Brian Cody in Kilkenny, he is actually the joint longest serving manager across both Division 1 groups along with John Kiely and Colm Bonnar.
The fact that Fitzgerald took time out after the 2018 and 2019 Championships to reconsider his position, allied to constant links to other counties, is perhaps why some have placed him in the journeyman bracket.
But McDonald, who hit the crucial goal for Wexford in last weekend’s Walsh Cup final win over Galway, said it’s a misconception that Fitzgerald has a short shelf life wherever he goes.
“I remember I was asked this before and I think it was only going into year three,” said McDonald at the launch of the Allianz Hurling League. “We had just been beaten in the quarter-final of the Championship by Clare and I was thinking to myself, ‘How is this a thing?’
“I don’t know whether it’s the group of players, that he bonds with them a bit more, I don’t know what it is but it’s something I never agreed with anyway. It’s something that I never felt like it was going to happen.
“I think we’ve probably got stronger (bonds) with this group of players that he would have with other teams. We’re going into year four now and we’ve obviously had a little bit of success last year. I don’t know about this whole shelf life thing, he probably proved everyone wrong on that, not that he would even try to do that. I’d say he just knows himself.”
A delegation of Wexford players memorably took it upon themselves to travel to Fitzgerald’s home after the 2018 Championship, to beg him to stay.
The former Clare and Waterford manager later admitted it convinced him to stay and Wexford won a breakthrough Leinster title last summer.
They eventually came up short against Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-finals but Fitzgerald was emotional afterwards when he spoke about the unbreakable bond forged between players and management.
“After the semi-final, after the year that we had, I think everyone was so much closer,” said McDonald. “A few of us went down to Limerick to meet him, we just went down as a group of players anyway after the Championship. We called him up to see if he would be around and we met him. I think it’s on that kind of basis now where the player-management atmosphere is really good.”
McDonald admitted he was a little worried when the 2013 All-Ireland winning manager was linked with the Galway vacancy following Micheal Donoghue’s departure.
“I was probably just more worried that he wasn’t going to stay with us rather than where he was going to go next,” said the 24-year-old.
“We were adamant about keeping him so that’s where the main focus was, it wasn’t really about was he going to jump ship to Galway, it was more so that it’s important we keep him with us.”
Fitzgerald is coming up on equaling the three and a half seasons he spent with Waterford while he was in charge of his native Clare for five seasons.
“It would probably have been a setback (if he’d quit) but it’s hard to know,” said McDonald. “You’ll never know that. It would have been a big story anyway.”
Wexford open their Division 1 Group B campaign on Saturday evening against Laois in Portlaoise. McDonald said he’s forewarned after watching the O’Moore County blaze a trail to the All-Ireland quarter-finals in Eddie Brennan’s first season as boss.
“Two or three years ago, we went up there when they weren’t being recognised for what they were doing and we got a point maybe in the 73rd minute to scrape out a win,” said McDonald. “So we know what they’ll bring, it’s not just because of last year. They have some really good hurlers and they’ve a good bond as well. We’ve always noticed that and Eddie Brennan obviously adds to it.”