Shane Stapleton: Will Davy Fitzgerald bring success or schism to Wexford hurling?

What awaits Wexford players and their fans as Davy settles in to his new role?

BY Shane Stapleton 12:00 Tuesday 18 October 2016, 12:00 18 Oct 2016

Image: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

Ever hear of a deadly nightshade? It’s a poisonous, bushy Eurasian plant with drooping purple flowers and black, cherry-like fruit.

There’s another word for it: belladonna. That name comes from modern Latin, and translates as “fair lady”. One word with two very different meanings.

Depending on whether you wear Clare or Wexford colours, Davy Fitzgerald could be either of those definitions. In fact, he’s Marmite irrespective of your loyalties to either county — sections of both do and don’t want him.

As much as Liam Dunne’s Wexford reign showed some green shoots this year by beating Cork, you can’t deny how poor the Rebels are these days. In many ways there’s little doubt that Dunne’s five-year term had hit the skids, particularly factoring in 24-point losses to Limerick and Kilkenny in recent seasons.

Not that everyone in Wexford is convinced. One local club player explains widespread shock at his departure, feels that the majority of people thought the team were moving in the right direction, and learned with Colm Bonnar the downside of an outside manager.

Image: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

The Oulart man had welcomed a contest for the hot-seat, and was the only person nominated, but then there was talk of a 19-man shortlist for the job and finally Dunne was usurped after a meeting with Davy in Laois.

Regarding Fitzgerald, there’s an element of relief when you speak with Banner people that they have moved on and freshened it up. No doubt, some Models also feel the same with Dunne.

Which, when you think about it, lends a certain irony to Wexford’s appointment of a man who perhaps had outstayed his welcome elsewhere. What is bitter poison to one man seems food to another.

Fitzgerald has been in the management game a long time now, and he’s absorbed plenty of arrows during that time. Will he able able for what’s coming down the tracks here? Consider this Easter that Dunne went on a four-day break to Spain and that information made its ways to the national media, with the man then having to defend himself. Nonsense.

In between the league’s end and the championship opener with Dublin, Dunne had to release his players for multiple rounds of club action in both codes. Now as much as this column will never bat for county managers whose selfish motivations are ruining the club game, this did not present a level playing field for the Wexford county hurlers on this occasion. It will be interesting to see how Davy will negotiate such hurdles — his track record in his own dual county is questionable.

Throw expectations into the mix. County chairman Diarmuid Devereaux speaks of promotion from Division 1B to 1A of the league. Last year the county won two and lost three games in the second tier. Dunne rightly spoke of injuries, but just as managers are quick to forget that a player’s patchy form might be down to that very reason, the general public are also only interested in bottom line: how did we perform, was it good enough? Save the excuses — that’s the reality, and it only hardens for an outside man.

As we discussed in the last column, Fitzgerald leaves the Banner job with a record of ten wins from 21 championship games, but 60% of those came in the 2013 season. Crucially, he does bring with him the cache of winning an All-Ireland, and being a reigning league champion.

Image: Clare supporters congratulate manager Davy Fitzgerald after the final whistle in the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Final Replay, Semple Stadium, Thurles. ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

So whatever about his shortcomings, he has what no current Wexford man has - senior success. With the appointment of JJ Doyle to his backroom team and as intermediate manager, he brings with him the next best thing on a local level: the man who led the county to three successive Under-21 Leinster titles from 2013 to 2015.

This was a smart move by Fitzgerald, because there is a lot of goodwill within the county for Doyle, not just for his Under-21 work but for leading the camogie side to All-Ireland success too. It should fireproof the set-up from criticism to some degree if results are substandard at the beginning.

What do they need to succeed? Injuries to clear up, a return to the fold and to form for Jack Guiney and Kevin Foley, and a gameplan that proves more progressive than Dunne’s. Derek McGrath has shown with Waterford that young players can learn new tricks. And as Dunne explained this year, he was picking from a group aged between 19 and 25.

Image: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

He needs to continue getting the best out of the current crop, namely Lee Chin, Matt O’Hanlon and Conor McDonald, but also bring others up to that level. Liam Og McGovern has rare speed, Liam Ryan has shown huge potential, and Paul Morris is another talent. The challenge is bringing it all together, as briefly happened in 2014 when they dethroned Davy’s own Clare.

A crowd of 14,000 rammed into Wexford Park for that amazing game, making for an incredible atmosphere and a shock result. The panel celebrated in the dressing-room under the stand, belting out a few bars of ‘The Rambler’ that carried outside to the halls where the journalists waited for a word. Two years and many recriminations later (both for the incoming and outgoing manager), we are where we are.

The question to be answered then is: Davy Fitz, fair lady or poison?

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