Let’s begin with the opposition. Let’s begin with Davy.
David Burke was midfield for UL in the 2011 Fitzgibbon Cup final at the Waterford IT complex in Carriganore. Their opponents were Limerick rivals LIT. Managing them was Davy.
UL had conducted their warm-up and were heading back down the tunnel to the dressing room when they met a fairly fired-up LIT side coming against them.
We’ll let Burke pick it up from here.
“All you could see was LIT lads coming like trains and small Davy coming behind them,” the secondary school teacher recalls.
“He just bounced off a wall and bounced off one of our players. I was at the back of our group so I could see it all happening. They were trying to psyche us out.”
The Galway captain, it should be noted, finished that afternoon with four points, a Fitzgibbon Cup winners medal and the man of the match crystal. The early mind games failed to do the trick.
Fitzgerald was again the main story when Clare and Galway clashed in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final, the then Clare manager having undergone minor heart surgery the week of the game. Not even the insertion of two angioplasty stents would keep him from the line in Thurles.
“He’s just mad into hurling,” Burke continues. “If he wasn’t allowed go to the game, I don’t know what he’d do.
“Being so close to Clare and having cousins living on the border, there was massive hype in the build-up to that game and in years before that, I would have shied away from it. But I enjoyed it a bit more and it actually helped in getting up for the game.
"I suppose with Davy, we kind of counteracted the way Clare played and he’ll be trying to double counteract that now the next day. He’ll be thinking that because we stopped them doing it last year, he might be afraid of us doing it again.”
And while the midfielder admires the Clare native’s passion, he’s not a fan of Fitzgerald’s favoured style of play.
“I think if you play a sweeper you are not going to win. It will only get you so far and I think Davy knows that as well with Wexford. That’s why he has tweaked it a small bit where you can see those half-backs up in the forwards and they are pushing up the field.
“You saw it last year, Waterford should have pushed up on Kilkenny and when they did; they probably should have beaten them that day. If you come to the semi-final/final stage, it’s not going to get you over the line if those teams are going really well.”
Granted, but it has Wexford, at Galway’s expense, in Division 1A of the league come 2018. It also secured them a first championship win over Kilkenny since 2004. Mind you, that particular stat was nearly lost in all the kerfuffle about the glass box below in Wexford Park that evening.
“He got suspended so he was kind of saying ‘look, I’ll go under the floors here and hide away for a while’. It worked out because it was kind of ‘me against the world’.
“There was a massive build-up to that game the last day and there will be again the next day, mind games and all that stuff. He coached Joe [Canning] in college, so that’s another dynamic.”
That Joe hasn’t been the centre of the Galway conversation in 2017 tells you how well the Tribesmen are motoring. He’s started their last five games at centre-forward and it has been anything but a case of his presence being missed inside.
Twenty-year-old Conor Whelan has already put himself in pole position for young hurler of the year with back-to-back man of the match displays against Dublin and Offaly. He notched seven from play against Offaly, throwing over five against Dublin. Jason Flynn, having taken the Tipperary defence for 2-1 in the league final, followed this up with 1-2 against Dublin. Conor Cooney went one better than him that afternoon.
Burke (27) made his championship debut in the 2010 Leinster quarter-final win over Wexford and he says this is the strongest Galway team he’s ever been part of. Leadership, he adds, was a problem with the team he joined seven years ago. That’s not as much of an issue anymore.
“When I came into the panel, I obviously looked up to those players, but I just felt that there was maybe a small bit of leadership or trust lacking that time. I don’t know what it was. It was hard to put my finger on it.
“Our hurling has never been questioned if we come up against the big teams, it’s just really when the battle and the hard ball needs to be won; can this team do it? I think we have the tools to do it now. It’s just a matter of going out on the field and proving it.”
Those tools were sorely lacking in the second half of the 2015 All-Ireland final as Kilkenny outscored the men from the west by 0-14 to 1-4 upon the resumption.
The St Thomas’ hurler was arguably the sole player clad in maroon to swim against the tide during that second period and was rewarded with a second All Star.
After that latest disappointment, he again referenced leadership.
“It has been a fair criticism of this team. Like, it’s not something that I can go into 15 lads, tell them something and it’s fixed straight away.
"It’s not that, it’s small things you need to work over a space of time. In them big games, that leadership question - we are trying to work on that. And we feel we’re getting there. This is the game we need to show it. Talking about it is grand. We need to go out and deliver.”
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