Davy Fitz: We can live with anyone on our day
When Davy Fitzgerald opted to go back in with Wexford for a third season last winter, it brought to 30 the number of consecutive years he'd been involved at inter-county level as either a player or a manager.
As he had done on a few occasions before, he toyed with the idea of walking away or taking a break. The trip from Clare to the sunny south-east takes its toll and there were other things he could pursue. Eventually his belief that Wexford are within touching distance convinced him to go again.
"I think they've proven it themselves, they've proven it," said the Clare native. "When they're on their game, when they're mentally up for it and physically at it, they'll live with anyone. If we can bring them things to the table we'll live with anyone but when we don't… like I thought the All-Ireland quarter-final last year against Clare, no disrespect to Clare, but we were very flat.
"Physically, we didn't put in the challenges that we should have put in. If you look at us playing say, even Kilkenny, Tipp the last day or Kilkenny in the championship last year, physically we were right there and if you remember the Clare game, we weren't."
Fitzgerald's impression that Wexford weren't at the pace of the game is borne out by the numbers. They were, he revealed, off in every department including turnovers and tackles. The tell-tale GPS units also revealed they didn't cover the usual ground.
Still, the graph has generally gone upwards since he arrived in Wexford and he believes there is more to come.
"I love seeing teams that are not meant to do stuff, do stuff. I get a buzz out of that. If you look at my CV club-wise or even county-wise, I've a nice bit of stuff won but a lot of it would be with teams that haven't done it.
"That's what I get the buzz out of because if you take Clare in the mid-'90s, I was lucky to have played with a great bunch of guys. We came out of no place and that's some feeling."
And he has identified where his side need to improve going into the new season.
"Consistency and depth," he replied when asked what his side needed to find to take the next step.
"If you look at the first two years what you are trying to do is make sure we can grow our confidence. How do we grow our confidence? You've to win every single game you play, starting with Walsh Cup, right. So that means you are putting out your best all the time and it's very hard to give other lads that chance. Whereas this year, we kind of consolidated last year so this year I said, 'You know what, there's no relegation in the league,' and I'd say we are right up there as regards the number of starters - I think we have had 25 or 26 different starters in the league.
"To me, that would be very decent, I'd say that is right up there with the top teams, maybe Limerick might have matched us on that, or be one or two above us, that's all. But I'm happy that we did what we did.
"I think in championship last year I used 19, 18-19. I think this year I definitely think I have the possibility to use 23 or 24, which is a big difference."
Galway in Salthill are next on the horizon. Fitzgerald has been forthright about the financial implications of making the knockout stages of the league for county boards. But now that he's here, he's in no mood to take the foot off the pedal.
"(Micheál) Donoghue always seems to get up for me, I don't know what the story is. Every time he plays me he's like a lunatic.
"I was watching him on the sideline the last day and he wasn't so bad when I was watching the tape back. So no doubt he will. He's always managed to get right up for it. Maybe I haven't been up for it enough when I've played him.
"Maybe I need to have a look at that, you know," he laughed. "So we'll have to have a real think about that one. I think he's done a great job with them. They're a very hard-working team. They travel back a lot in numbers, they work very hard."