Sport Hurling

Thursday 25 May 2017

Fitz deserves plaudits for Deise revival

Fitzgerald has set out to make Waterford a more difficult team to beat. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Fitzgerald has set out to make Waterford a more difficult team to beat. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When Kilkenny laid Waterford to rest by five points in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, it was the view of some Deise folk that a parting of the ways may be the best direction for management and players at that point.

They had redressed the malaise of their All-Ireland final display 11 months earlier against the same opponents with respectability. It looked a good time to cut and run and when Peter Queally and Maurice Geary stepped down, the way pointed for Davy Fitzgerald too.

But the manager saw a future that many others didn't and persisted, risking conflict with established names and old habits and set about ripping up the blueprint and going at it again.

A Munster title on Saturday night has justified Fitzgerald's decision to stay and keep building a new model in Waterford. There are several key principles that he has stuck to. We look at what the most important ones are:

Game Plan

The careless abandon with which Waterford once approached games has been tapered somewhat by Fitzgerald, who has imposed a very definite structure to the way he sets his team out.

Much like Pat Gilroy's mission with the Dublin footballers, Fitzgerald has set out to make Waterford a more difficult team to beat and that was certainly the case against Cork.

Kevin Moran and Stephen Molumphy are half-forwards only by the decree of the team sheet on the match programme. Shane O'Sullivan's deployment at midfield also has extra security in mind as they flood the drop zone for opposing puck-outs and leave John Mullane almost in isolation as the lone full-forward.

The system may have had teething problems against Clare but it has been fine-tuned in the Munster finals.

Careful handling of veterans

Earlier this year, Fitzgerald announced that six of his wizened veterans would be handed extended breaks with a carefully tailored gym programme to adhere to.

So Ken McGrath, Tony Browne, Mullane, Eoin Murphy, Dan Shanahan and Seamus Prendergast took themselves off the circuit and recharged the batteries. By early March, Mullane, Prendergast and Murphy had all returned and, by the end of that month, Browne ended all speculation about his future when he reported for duty.

It could have been construed as a gamble to leave so many experienced players 'off' for such a large part of the season, but Brian Cody exercised much the same options with many of his more seasoned players at the same time. Given the performance of Browne, in particular, last weekend, the rest for the chosen few now looks like an inspired move.

Being his own man

Once the All-Ireland final of 2008 was out of the way, Fitzgerald has sought to put his own stamp on the team and has carried out that with conviction -- despite the feathers he has ruffled.

Leaving out Declan and Seamus Prendergast and McGrath for the Clare game tested relations but the response was as the management would have wanted it. McGrath's defiant gesture on scoring a point when introduced and Fitzgerald's stoic response said it all: neither are in it for friendships.

Shanahan's admission that he was "a bit pissed off" at not being brought on earlier is probably an understatement but he too has perhaps found a niche as a very important impact replacement.

Conditioning

At the end of another deadlocked 70 minutes on Saturday night, there was obvious concern among the Waterford faithful that some of their more seasoned combatants would struggle to see out the additional 20 minutes.

They need not have worried. Waterford have finished quite strongly in all of their games in the championship so far.

Since Fitzgerald took over, Waterford have found new reserves of energy and strength through some demanding regimes and well-thought drills.

This was essentially the reason he was appointed, at the behest of the players, in the first place. Significantly, Fitzgerald flagged the advice of Gerard Hartmann, the renowned therapist, in a post-match interview in Thurles.

Finding a secure full-back

Two positions caused Justin McCarthy more trouble than any others during his term in charge: goalkeeper and full-back.

Clinton Hennessy has solved the riddle of the 'keeper and Liam Lawlor is holding his own in the No 3 shirt after so much trial and tribulation from Fitzgerald over the last two seasons, from McGrath to Declan Prendergast.

Irish Independent

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