Thursday 22 August 2019

'Be greedy and seize the day as it won't last forever' - Former Wexford star Jacob urges Davy's Model men to grasp their big opportunity


New vision: Wexford’s attacking style and sweeper system are evolving under Davy Fitzgerald’s guidance. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
New vision: Wexford’s attacking style and sweeper system are evolving under Davy Fitzgerald’s guidance. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

While excitement was the overriding emotion around the sunny south-east after Davy Fitzgerald's shock appointment as Wexford hurling boss in the autumn of 2016, Rory Jacob couldn't but help feel a pang of jealousy.

Jacob had retired the previous season after 14 years in purple and gold and knew what he was missing out on with Fitzgerald's arrival. He would have given anything to rewind the clock and put his shoulder to the Wexford wheel again.

"I remember speaking to Liam Óg McGovern when Davy got the job and saying, 'Ye are the luckiest crowd of all time, I'd love to be 26 years of age again'. I knew what he would bring to the table," Jacob says.

"I knew that there was a good calibre of player and an even better calibre of men in there and that he was going to get that little bit extra out of them. They had come so far but I knew Davy was going to get that little bit more out of them.


"I'd love to have been there, he'd be a great fella to play under. He's infectious and you can see the way the players feel about him, it's not just the passion that he's bringing to it, there's a lot more to it than that."

What Fitzgerald brings to the table and everything he has brought to this Wexford squad is what empowered a bus load of players to head for the Clare native's home in Sixmilebridge in the off-season when his future at the helm was in shrouded in doubt.

They knew they were on to a good thing, with Jacob insisting that they had no interest in letting the previous two years go to waste.

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"That's why the players went after Davy. It's all well and good changing managers but sometimes you don't know what you're going to get and when you have a good thing, players will want to hold on to it. They know that this thing doesn't last forever.

"They knew they had a good thing and they thought they could get it a bit further over the line. Maybe they let him down a bit in the game against Clare (2018 All-Ireland quarter-final) too and that probably stuck in their throat as well.

"I'd imagine the players wanted to pay him back and they've done that this year so far. It was probably the ideal situation for Davy to be in, I'd say he was licking his lips and thinking, 'These lads are going to do everything for me'.

While Fitzgerald has hinted at the punishing regime he put them through, Jacob feels it was some subtle tweaks and the less-is-more approach which helped secure a famous Leinster triumph last month.

The Oulart-The Ballagh attacker speaks of a fresher side which started pre-season training a little later, is afforded more breaks after games and allowed to preserve energy at every opportunity. With their high-octane style, that edge is crucial.

"That's a key for us. We have a high-energy game and if we don't have energy we're going to struggle. He's timed it well and he's probably learned from his own mistakes over the last 10 years to have these lads ready for when it really matters," the 35-year-old says.

Jacob had labelled Wexford's sweeper system a "work in progress" earlier this year but he's been impressed with their increased emphasis on attack, which bore great fruit when they took down Kilkenny.

"The team know their job and that's essentially what a good manager does. He gets them believing in what they're doing, he gets them buying in to everything and you can see that from the players. There is nobody really questioning what's happening.

"They have definitely improved the attacking side of things. The emphasis was on half-backs and midfielders getting the majority of our scores and I could only see that going so far, so the Leinster final was different.

"Our forwards were on the board. The emphasis has shifted to getting the ball into our real danger men and our real forwards and that's a credit to Davy and getting the attacking side to evolve.

"The sweeper has evolved too. Kevin Foley is coming into the attack that little bit more and he's not camped right in front of the full-forward as much as Shaun Murphy was, so Kevin is given more of a licence to contribute scoring-wise as well."

Jacob featured in three All-Ireland semi-finals during his Wexford career - the last of which came when defeating Sunday's opponents Tipperary in the 2007 quarter-final - and he implores the current crop to seize the day and "be greedy".

"We're 70 minutes away from an All-Ireland final and you don't get that opportunity too often in Wexford. It's not Cork, Kilkenny or Tipperary you're talking about here.


"They may not get another chance to play in a semi-final. I'd say to the Wexford lads to be greedy now and really grasp what they have because these times mightn't last forever."

Liam Sheedy's Tipp are formidable opponents and Jacob feels two off-colour displays in succession actually makes them more dangerous, especially with "four of the best forwards in the country".

"There are question marks about them but I think that makes Tipp extra dangerous, I think they're more dangerous now than if they had beaten Laois by 25 points. We're going to have to up things a few notches," Jacob says.

"We are capable of doing it. It'll come down to who creates the most scoring chances and then who takes them. To beat Tipp we're probably going to have to hit 30 points and if Tipp get goals and get their tails up, they'll be very hard to stop."

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