On his first night training Wexford, Davy Fitzgerald asked the county board for 160 sliotars... repeating the request every night thereafter.
They “nearly had a seizure”, he recalls, but now Wexford are in a Leinster final.
“Most of these guys, the biggest crowd they would have played in front of was 25,000, maybe 30,000, for an All-Ireland quarter-final.
“They’re going to play in front of 45 or 50,000, in that bracket. It is a big step up for them. Are you worried that the occasion might get to them? You are worried. We are trying to do everything to make sure that it won’t. Galway, if you look at them, they have been in four of the last six Leinster finals. Is that right? [It’s four out of five]
“They have been in two All-Irelands, they have been in a league final. They have that experience and that is a plus. I remember with Clare, when I was playing, we lost two Munster finals, got absolutely hammered. We were called bottlers, we were called everything under the sun, but yet, that experience stood to us. I think the experience of Galway losing one or two finals has stood to them and built their resilience, as you saw in the league final. They weren’t fazed in the league final, they were ready for road, so that myth was blown out the door, and I think they are a stronger team for it.”
How does Fitzgerald prepare his team for that challenge?
“When you come to training, you are not coming to training to tick a box, you are training to improve on different skillsets every night and improve yourself as a player.
“And we have done different things, I was about to tell ya, but I won’t, I will keep it til next year. There are different things we have done that other managers wouldn’t do.
“I like testing them, I like knowing that lads are thinking: ‘What the fuck is coming next, what is going to happen?’ I think that is good for them too, they never know what is going to happen from one session to the next.”
The training must make demands of the squad, he adds.
“We have gone to the well a good bit now, because we have had to. Momentum helps, 100%, but it has to be more than that, you have to have more than that.
“You need to be in physically unreal shape and have to have all the boxes ticked. There is an awful lot of things you have to have right. You won’t get away with it in championship, we wouldn’t have got away with it against Kilkenny.
“That was a very physical game. That was a tough game, I remember looking out with a few minutes to go and seeing players from our team and from the Kilkenny team and they couldn’t give another thing. There was a lot of hits in that game.”
Fitzgerald says joining Wexford “was very much like Clare”, where he changed the style of hurling.
“It suited the team we had, and we only changed that in 2011 and they used that for the under-21s from then on. They hadn’t used it before then.
“When I came in here, I thought it was very similar. They had won two or three Leinster 21s, but I wasn’t really sure. The thing that got me going was that everyone had them written off so much, they were more or less no-hopers and you were crazy going down there.
“I kinda liked that, people saying there wasn’t a chance they will do anything. That motivates me a small bit, I enjoy that. When something isn’t meant to be done, that you can go in and work extremely hard and you never know where it brings you — and listen, we got one or two breaks along the way.”
Are Wexford ahead of expectations, then?
“One-hundred per cent,” says Fitzgerald. “Don’t have any doubt about that. I don’t know, we might get a trimming-and-a-half the next day. Do I think any less of them? No, because we have won big games this year. I thought it might take two to three years for us to get to where we are now. If I got to a Leinster final, you’d say: ‘Jesus, that would have been...’ If I walked away after two years here and we got to a Leinster final, got promoted, I would have said to myself: ‘Davy, you have done a decent job.’
“The players deserve it. They are actually a fantastic bunch. Anything you ask them to do, they do it. If we are training at half [past] seven I guarantee you they will be ready at seven. We will always train 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
“They are good guys and I’ve said it to ’em: ‘You only get in this game what you deserve.’ I remember saying to them at the start: ‘Why shouldn’t Wexford be playing in a Leinster final or be promoted, why shouldn’t they?’
“We have got to get this into our heads that no-one is going to hand this to us. We have got to do this ourselves and stop feeling sorry for ourselves, and I think it’s a very important thing. Certain teams do it and they’ve got to stop doing it.”
Fitzgerald described defender Damien Reck as “three or four weeks away” from full fitness. He lamented the long-term loss of Liam Óg McGovern with a cruciate injury: “He’s gone in to be one of our forwards’ coaches, and I tell you, he’s meticulous, he’s at me all the time about different stuff. I’m actually enjoying that, because he’s ringing me about ‘did you think of this’, ‘what did you think of that’, ‘why did you do this?’”
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