Davy Fitzgerald enjoys a challenge. From his quest to deliver Wexford the holy grail of the Liam MacCarthy Cup, to buying a pub in the midst of a global pandemic, the 49-year-old “gets a kick” out of delivering against the odds.
He insists that hope is what drives him on rather than a particular will to prove doubters wrong.
“I love making a difference,” he explains, giving the example of a team that perhaps hasn’t won anything in a long time.
“When you work with anybody, why not, why can’t you do something? It might take you a while to get there but you get there. That’s what I enjoy and that’s what I get the biggest kick out of.”
So let’s not expect the hurling supremo to take charge of Kilkenny or Tipperary in the near future – those jobs aren’t really up his alley.
Notwithstanding the underdog success as a player and manager with Clare, his reinvigoration of the Wexford hurlers and his TV exploits, Fitzgerald has faced his own personal challenges too, particularly with his health.
The 49-year-old has suffered from heart problems over the years, having five stents in the arteries of his heart. On top of this, he was diagnosed with sleep apnoea a couple of years back.
It meant having to wear a machine on his face to help breathe at night – something he “struggled with massively” but eventually managed to overcome.
“I remember getting up and sitting on the side of the bed with Sharon (his wife) a few times, I found it very hard to cope with,” he admits.
“You had the stents. The next thing you’re going to bed with a machine and you’re only in your mid 40s and I found it difficult. But you know what, we found a way to get around it and beat it,” he adds, highlighting the help of alternative therapist Colin Smith from Wexford, who passed away last year.
Fitzgerald has used the multiple lockdowns as an opportunity to get further on top of his health, but has found the restrictions hard going, particularly for someone always on the go.
“I concentrated on losing weight. My weight had gone too heavy. I’d gone to 14 stone 11, wasn’t far off 15 stone. I had to work hard to try and bring that down and just be a bit healthier,” he says.
“I got down to about 12 stone 12, so nearly two stone.”
The Clare man is proud of co-developing one of Ireland’s most popular reality TV shows – Ireland’s Fittest Family. The concept has been sold to multiple countries across Europe. But Fitzgerald insists it’s certainly not big-money business.
“No, definitely not. You don’t make a fortune out of TV, I can tell you.”
His latest venture, Davy’s Toughest Team, sees the hurling manager attempt to motivate seven young men at a crossroads in life in an effort to bring them together to climb to the Mount Everest Base Camp.
Fitzgerald is so loved among the Wexford hurling panel that around 18 of them took a bus to his house in Clare in 2018 to convince him to stay on with the county. But did his unique man-management skills translate to those grappling with various social and mental health problems?
“This was way outside my comfort zone,” he explains.
“There’s some degree that’s the same, but the lads are from way different backgrounds. When I’m working with the team, I still have to figure out what makes them tick, what makes them not tick, you know?
“I feel I had to push myself to learn more bits and pieces, to understand more about their backgrounds to understand more about them and how they’re feeling. You’re trying to go into their mind and see how they’re seeing it in order to be able to help them. That took a lot of work,” he adds.
With two television shows and a new pub to get up and running amid a nationwide lockdown, does he see himself as an entrepreneur?
He says he has “a few different things on the go all the time”.
“I bought a pub in Lahinch – and imagine buying it in the middle of the pandemic. It kind of doesn’t make sense but I still think it’ll be okay and I’m really passionate about that. So, I love doing things like that, it keeps me going, it keeps me alive.”
He’s hoping the family-run pub – which will be named Davy Fitzgerald’s – will open for the first time in the middle of this year.
“I’ll definitely be there. My dad will be there, probably my sister, my young fella. The family will be there. We’ll have a big presence in it, that’s important to us.”
Being one of the GAA’s most well-known personalities is sure to see holidaymakers in the seaside town popping in to say hello.
Even those with just a passing interesting in hurling know Fitzgerald – but he has played down the fiery sideline persona he’s often characterised with.
“I am passionate, I am fired up. When I feel I need to do something or make a point or drive my team on, I’ll do it.
“I’d say it’s a very small percentage of the 75 minutes you’ll see me do that. If I’m ticked about a decision, I wear my heart on my sleeve, you’ll see it. Whatever way I’m feeling, you’ll see it.
“There’s nothing I can do with people thinking I’m a hot head or anything like that. That’s fine. I think the people around me, I think the team knows exactly what I’m about and how much I think about it,” he adds.
With all he has going on, Fitzgerald could be forgiven for thinking a break from the sport could be beneficial when he eventually steps away from his current role.
“I’m feeling good and I’m feeling healthy. If the break does come, I’ve enough other projects to keep me going and if something else pops up and some other venture takes my fancy, I’ll do it. I’m still only 49. I’d still like to think I’ve a lot of mileage on the clock yet.”