It might not be the prettiest game ever, warns Fitzgerald
Published 29/04/2016 | 02:30
Clare supremo Davy Fitzgerald has warned that Sunday's eagerly-awaited Allianz NHL Division 1 final against Waterford might not be the "prettiest" of spectacles.
Clare have conceded just four goals in seven league games this year - with Kilkenny's Jonjo Farrell the only player to net from play against the Banner County.
Waterford boast a miserly defensive record of their own, leaking just five goals from their seven league outings in the current campaign.
Both of Sunday's finalists have adopted sweeper systems to near perfection and Fitzgerald admits that he "loves" the job his opposite number Derek McGrath has done in Waterford.
Fitzgerald is a former Waterford manager himself, guiding the Déise to the 2008 All-Ireland decider before stepping aside three years later.
Michael Ryan took over before McGrath stepped into the Waterford hot seat in 2013. But the current boss endured a miserable 2014 as Waterford slipped into Division 1B before suffering championship defeats to Cork and Wexford.
McGrath plotted a swift return to the top flight before winning the title outright last year, devising and perfecting a style of play that Fitzgerald admits will make them difficult to break down.
Clare have followed a similar path to Sunday's opponents, bouncing from back relegation last year to win Division 1B and progress to the top-flight decider.
And Fitzgerald grinned: "I'm chuckling that we are there. I don't know if we will win it or not.
"People are saying will ye not hold back for the championship? No.
"If we can try and win it we will. Don't be fooled, Derek McGrath is saying the exact same thing if I know him - which I do.
"Whatever he says afterwards, he will be trying to win it and I'm the exact same."
Sunday's game is a championship dress rehearsal for the Munster SHC semi-final between the counties on June 5.
And Fitzgerald's mind has been exercised by how to find a way past McGrath's men in both games.
He reflected: "Waterford started playing a certain way about a year and a half ago. I think they have developed it massively.
"I have been looking at it, looking at it for a while and it will be hard enough to break it down, how they play.
"It mightn't be the prettiest game ever on Sunday because the middle third will be very congested I think.
"It won't be a massive open game, it will be hard enough to get scores because of the way they are in that middle third.
"And make no mistake about it, I love it. I love what he has done.
"He is a very smart guy, he has really worked hard at this and, trust me, there is no point in listening to 'you're favourites, they're favourites'.
"I think it is tight. I think it is going to be interesting how we cope with them and if we break them down, how they counteract it."
Fitzgerald and McGrath, off the pitch, are close. In 2014, when McGrath was taking flak within his own county, Fitzgerald urged Waterford supporters on local radio to stick with their manager.
But any contact between the pair has dried up considerably since the 2016 championship draw pitted Fitzgerald against McGrath.
Fitzgerald said: "We wouldn't have been in touch since the championship draw came out.
"Were we in touch before then? I'll let Derek answer that. There would have been a bit more than texts (previously), you know.
"I'll tell you why. He took a lot of stick in 2014. I remember doing an interview on WLR FM saying, 'Give this fella a break'.
"They were giving him a hard time. I said, 'Trust me, this fella is smart, he will get it right'. I believed that.
"You should never judge a guy straight away. I believed he would figure it out. "This fella would be up to everything, he is like the rest of us, anything he can get an edge on. Trust me, he is deadly.
"I love seeing a guy who absolutely got hammered, and he did get lambasted down there, and he stuck it out. And I say hats off to him and the young players.
"We haven't played them since they started playing this way.
"We might go out and get hockeyed. We might go out and keep it tight. We might win, I don't know.
"I'd love to find something bad to say about him (McGrath) but I can't! Maybe after Sunday!"