The John Fogarty Interview: Davy Fitzgerald and Seamus McEnaney ‘going to drive each other on’

Wexford hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald and his football counterpart Seamus McEnaney. Picture: Mary Browne

On the face of it, Davy Fitzgerald and Seamus McEnaney couldn’t be more different. Football matters as little to Fitzgerald as hurling would to McEnaney. Wexford managers have been known to verbally spar in the past, but last Tuesday evening this pair took tea in the county’s centre of excellence in Ferns and found they have plenty in common

John Fogarty: A lot of what you have done up until now would suggest you’re kindred spirits.

Davy Fitzgerald: We cross paths every Tuesday, so we would.

Seamus McEnaney: Not until tonight would we have chatted for any length. We share information about whatever’s needed to be shared.

JF: You’re both entrepreneurs.

DF: I’m not in his league, right! I would be on a smaller scale.

SMc: He might be but I’m not in his league of management either. I’m small fry.

JF: You can stop the ego massaging now.

SMc: Listen, for me, it’s all go. You’re involved in business, in football. I love this job at the moment. The players’ attitudes are brilliant. It’s a long journey for me down the road but I’m making calls and planning. Marty (McElkennon) and myself come down together. It’s four hours for him to get here. A day’s work to come down and back. We do enjoy the craic and when we’re leaving here at 9.30 at night we leave with a buzz. The lads are absolutely emptying the tank for us. The Wexford County Board are doing everything they possibly can for us. Margaret Doyle (secretary) and Derek Kent (chairman) are really good people. I spent six years in Monaghan but five years with a brilliant chairman and county board. They rode the boat with me from Division 4.

DF: If you don’t have a board that is working with you and is prepared to go out on a ledge every now and again and help you then it’s wasting your time. We both might have come across different times when it mightn’t have been like that. I’d say the same as him – since I came down Wexford have been top class. They’re strict, they have their guidelines but they’re there to help you. They’re not there to hinder you.

SMc: You tick the boxes so that the players are going to be really looked after. There’s not a doubt in the world that if you don’t have everybody with you then you’re going nowhere fast.

JF: Davy, you mentioned earlier in the year the importance of company on the commute to Wexford.

DF: I’ve ended up with three or four lads coming with me.

SMc: This man needs a bus (laughs).

DF (smiles): I do, yeah. But, you know what, I love it because the craic we have on the way down, the laughing and the joking, helps breaks it up. Then on the way home you’re talking about training. If you were to do this on your own, it would be very hard to do it. I leave home about 2.15/2.30 in the day and getting home around 12.30/1am, which you’d be somewhat similar. It’s a long day.

JF: Wexford were making a statement with your appointments. They’re looking for results but they’re going to get extra exposure too.

SMc: The reason the two of us are here is neither of us are right in the head (laughs). We’re stone-mad about football and hurling and that’s the single biggest reason we are here. I’m similar to Davy in that I’m passionate. It’s an important ingredient. All we can do is harness the talent that is here. Both set-ups will help Wexford, I believe. The hurlers are setting an example and everybody in the football set-up wants to make sure it is on par with the hurling.

JF: Where do you get your entrepreneurial spirit?

DF: I’m working for myself 22 years now and I wouldn’t change a thing. There have been crazy ups and downs but I’m proud to say that I’ve done 22 years. I like being my own boss, he is probably the same. My number one love is hurling. As a nipper, all I did was go to games and wanted to be part of them games. Then when your playing days finish, like I didn’t expect the managerial thing to happen so quick but, do you know what, it’s a buzz. Why would we end up in Wexford otherwise?

I was definitely going to take a break last year ‘cause of the heart thing but I, like you (nods to McEnaney), met Diarmuid (Devereux, former Wexford chairman) and the f****** enthusiasm out of him and the desire I could feel it. You want to go into a place where you can make a difference. When I went into Clare, we hadn’t done anything in a number of years. When I was with Waterford, they were washed up and gone. If you can do something with a crowd that haven’t done anything in awhile, for me that’s my buzz. He’s the same as me and I know it. Can we make steps? Are there Leinsters or All-Irelands, we don’t know but can we make a difference? That’s why we’re there, to see those days when you’re after turning over a team that you’re not meant to turn over.

SMc: It’s about boxing above your weight. I would have felt with Monaghan we did that. I see similarities with these Wexford players. Monaghan gave me 100% and I get that vibe from Wexford. We’re in Division 4, we’re there for a reason and we have to bring them up the steps in recovery. In relation to being an entrepreneur, I have never worked for anybody else and I’d say I would be a terrible employee and I would probably make the worst selector in Ireland! I wouldn’t like to be the manager trying to manage me anyhow. I’ve been my own man since I was 18. My mother, Lord have mercy on her, passed away 18 months ago, and it possibly came from her because way back in the 1940s and 50s she would have dealt in chickens and sold them in fairs in Dublin and everything else. My father was a cattle dealer. I started working in a bar as an 11-year-old, as a floor boy, and rented my own pub when I was 18 so I know nothing else only working for myself.

JF: What attracted both of you to the pub trade?

SMc: Do you drink, Davy?

DF: No. Very little.

SMc: I’m a wee bit better than that. Many a fella has spilled more than I drank (they laugh).

DF: I think we get on with people. That’s the thing. You have to listen to a lot of stuff but once you let it in and out one ear you’re fine.

SMc: I’m slightly different to Davy in that I had four years out of management. I had a tough time in Meath especially the last year and four or five months after I finished with Meath I said to myself, ‘leave it up’. Last summer, I was going to championship games and I got that buzz back again.

DF: After Clare, I didn’t expect to be going anywhere and I was kinda half-saying I was actually in a place where after losing to Galway I was okay to finish up. Dónal Óg (Cusack) was anxious to get another year out of it but I was happy enough. I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I had a break because since I came onto the Clare panel in 1989 I’ve never stopped being involved at inter-county level.

SMc: I’ve done the punditry and people have said to me why would I leave RTÉ to drive two-and-a-half hours to Wexford and back. Yes, I was getting a few quid from RTÉ and I loved doing that Saturday (radio) programme but I wasn’t getting the fulfilment.

DF: Let’s call a spade a spade, that’s an easier gig. I sit down and listen to them and I’d love for them to stand on a sideline with 40,000 or 50,000 people roaring at them. I’m like you – it’s the buzz, being a part of it. You’re up, you’re down, it’s a rollercoaster and when you’re down you absolutely f****** take it to heart.

SMc: You would want to be winning nearly every game to get the satisfaction that matches the time and commitment you’re putting in. There is so much being put in. I can’t believe how much the science in the game has changed in my four years away from it. The loading systems, the video analysis, cloud video analysis, GPS systems. I kept my eye on the ball because it would be gone from you like that there (snaps fingers).

DF: He’s right, time has moved on unreal. You can’t believe it sometimes.

JF: Is there anything outside of sport that compares to that buzz you mention?

DF: I can’t think of anything (laughs).

SMc: Nothing comes close for me. Absolutely nothing.

JF: Say you pull off a big business deal?

SMc: Not one part of it would come close to managing a team after winning an important game.

DF: When that happens, just look at the people. I’d love if I could have frozen those times and experience it all the time. The one thing that f****** bothers me about Ireland is negativity – ‘the boys were terrible today’, ‘they’re trying that short-ball game, it’s f****** awful’. What they mightn’t realise is sure that the team has been losing for the last 20 years so why not try something different? You have to evolve.

SMc: You say ‘look at the crowd’ and probably one of my best memories was playing Donegal in Omagh in 2007 in a final round qualifier. I remember Dessie Mone fainted in the dressing room after giving his all. I went back out onto the pitch after he was treated and it was near enough 10 o’clock and there was still about 1,000 Monaghan people on the pitch. I couldn’t make my way to the RTÉ cameras with people and I never had such a feeling. The other one for me was when Monaghan invaded the pitch in 2005 when we won the Division 2 trophy. A Division 2 trophy but the same feeling.

DF: That’s it. My best was when we won an intermediate with a crowd in Clare called Killanena. They had never done it in their history, they had been to so many finals, couldn’t get over the line. We got them over the line a few years ago (2011). Oh, my good God. There’s only 600 or 700 people there and that parish had never experienced a success like that. I f***** loved it.

SMc: I won an intermediate championship with my club (Corduff) as player-manager in ’98 and we have never played senior football in the history of the club. It was the best buzz of my life. We partied for a week. Three of us brothers playing, one a selector, Pat had broken his leg the previous week.

DF: You get those feelings but you don’t get fecking many of them. I should have enjoyed 2013 more than I did because what got into my head is that we were up there to be toppled. We came back to Ennis for the parade and I was the only one out of the whole backroom staff who didn’t go out after and I regret it to this day. All I had in my head was, ‘You know what’s coming, you need to get yourself ready’.

SMc: That soon after?

DF: Yeah.

SMc: Did you ever think about finishing after that All-Ireland?

DF: No, and I’ll tell you why: I won with such a young bunch and it wasn’t about winning another one. When you have so many of them 20 years of age the stuff that is put in front of you winning an All-Ireland... my job for the next two or three years – and I’m proud of this – was to make sure that they understood what life was about and that I didn’t lose any of them to drink or anything like that. Trust me, that’s hard work. Coping with success like that was one of the hardest things ever.

SMc: You know the old saying about a clap in the back being six inches from a kick in the arse. I remember going to a Monaghan National League game in Carlow and I was one of 20 people there. When I finished up in 2010, there were 20,000 Monaghan supporters. And you have 20,000 opinions. There were only 20 opinions in Carlow.

DF: Monaghan came out of no place. The structure you would have put around yourself would have been unreal. Organised.

SMc: The men around me. If you don’t have that...

DF: But that was the big thing – ye had everything down to a tee.

JF: You also had to be prepared to be disliked.

SMc: If you were in this job to be loved, you’re in the wrong place I tell ya (both laugh). As a matter of fact, if you’re in the nightclub or football or hurling business to be loved you’re in big f****** trouble.

DF: Do you get in as much trouble with the referees as me, no? (laughs)

SMcE: No, not as bad as you (laughs).

JF: But what does it take out of you? Davy’s health issues last year were well documented. Banty, you were put over hot coals in your last year with Meath. Ever think it’s not worth it?

SMc: You become battle-hardened and when you’re that those things wash off you. I never would take that home with me. It made me harder. As a manager, what happens inside the four walls of the dressing room is the only thing that matters. If I have the trust within those four walls and I like to think I’ve always had it, I don’t carry what anybody thinks.

DF: Opinions are very important in the GAA but the only ones that matter are in the group. I found Clare hard because there were times when I didn’t want to go to the shop. Maybe I’m different to you but I didn’t want to talk about it and took it personally. As time has gone on, I’ve tried to park things more.

On the health side of things, everybody thinks the heart blockage was to do with hurling but it was nothing to do with the GAA. Unfortunately, on my mother’s side of the family, there is history. She has lost three brothers. She lost her first one at 27. It’s just there. Would I be better off if I wasn’t part of it? It probably would be easier but, you know what, I f****** love this thing. What would I be doing, sitting at home twiddling my thumbs? That’s not what I’m about and I’ll always be doing something no matter what I am at.

JF: Is there anything unique in Wexford from your experiences in Clare, Waterford, Monaghan, Meath?

SMc: The Wexford people are nice people. They’re a good breed. Listen, my opinion could change down the road, there’s no guarantee, but I have no complaints whatsoever. They’re very respectful whether it’s on the road or in the town.

DF: They’ve been unreal to me too. You know what, you can feel they’re so mad for something to happen. I feel that more than I thought I would. They haven’t had much success in either code in a while and they want it and they’re passionate. That’s why you would so love to see something happening. We can’t guarantee it only give everything we have, try different things. They love their sport. Look at their history.

SMc: Horse racing. Boxing.

DF: Everything. They have the best of everything down here and they’re wicked passionate. That’s why I think we’re a good fit here. It’ll be an interesting ride for the next two years.

SMc: There’ll be craic anyway and probably a bit of controversy (laughs).

JF: Defiance is a word that would apply to you both.

SMc: It certainly categorises him and I’d say it probably categorises me (both laugh). You go into a recession and you can fire up the white flag and say, ‘my game’s up, it’s over’. Or you can fight tooth and nail to get out of the situation you’re in. For me, in football in Wexford we have to fight tooth and nail to get out of the very bad place we are. I wouldn’t mind being classed as defiant.

DF: We’re both in the same bracket. My objective here is to get into the top six. We’re not in top six, don’t let anyone fool you. We’re quite a bit away from it. You can have all the game-plans and tactics under the sun but it will come down to resilience and fight. If you haven’t got that desire, which makes up for a lot, you’re wasting your time. I didn’t know Seamus until I came down here. I don’t judge anyone until I meet them but you have to like him no matter what the story is 110% (both laugh).

There has been nothing about football and hurling (dual players). We come in and do our jobs. I would genuinely love to see him do well because I can see how passionate he is. I had a few run-ins with his brother (Pat, former national referees chief) alright but he (Banty) is a good man.

SMc: I think we had about 30 seconds of a chat about dual players and had the same opinion. I think if the hurlers could really go well here, the footballers will really go well.

DF: They’ll rub off each other. You saw with Clare last year, it happened and it can happen. I look over at the boys – I’ll be straight – to see what they’re doing and you can see how well organised they are and when they’re training, they’re really training and he’s stuck in the middle of it.

I know what they’re at and it encourages me to make sure we’re working every f***** bit as hard.

SMc: We’re going to drive each other on. If we can maximise the talent here, you can’t ask anything more.

DF: At the end of two years, see what we’ve done. Not after three months. It’s a process. There is no-one who can come in with a wand but if the players and everyone stays with you, you’ll get there.


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