There are plenty of sceptics in the county but his proven track record and all-or-nothing mentality might be the perfect tonic
Hard to believe it is ten years since I got a bit excited and did a Jurgen Klinsmann-style celebration on my knees in front of Davy Fitzgerald after we got the better of the Banner in the Munster SHC.
It is water under the bridge now, but a comment was passed on to me by a player’s father basically saying that Davy was telling people I was finished and I should probably move on and retire as a Waterford hurler.
I obviously didn’t take too kindly to it, hence my celebration and it probably didn’t help that Eoin Kelly and Davy had an incident earlier in the match where they had a ‘debate’ about the amount of All-Ireland medals they each had.
Davy came into the dressing-room after and we had a few words, but we’ve long moved on from that. I was taken aback by the comments at the time because I had given him four of the best years of my hurling career and he’d been very good to me.
He really looked after me when we were involved in the club run with De La Salle in 2011. He kept me fresh and knew I was going to deliver come the summer while he had the older lads on a programme with Ger Hartmann during his time with us as well.
He knew we’d come back hopping for the summer and I won three All-Stars under Davy. We had great days together, like the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final win and the 2010 Munster final replay success. And when he’s with you, he is with you 100pc.
Should we be surprised he is back in charge of Waterford? Absolutely not! Davy will be linked to any managerial vacancy outside the traditional ‘Big Three’ and he’s a much better manager than when he departed us 11 years ago.
Davy arriving in 2008 compared to Davy arriving in 2022 is chalk and cheese. Back then, he was just retired and still young for inter-county management at 36 as he ventured into the unknown with little experience.
When he walked in the door back then and replaced Justin McCarthy, he had us train 20 days out of the first month to try and get us back in shape by mid-summer and that was probably the Clare approach of the 1990s.
Sports science of today wouldn’t allow for that to happen and Davy, by year three of his first term, wasn’t long learning that older players with miles on the clock were not going to do the same training load as younger lads.
He’d tell you himself he probably got one or two things wrong back then with a few black days like the massacres in the 2008 All-Ireland final and 2011 Munster decider, but he was brilliant for the best part of it and brought a Waterford team in transition to four consecutive All-Ireland semi-finals.
Looking back, Davy probably didn’t get enough credit for what he did during that time. His biggest strength is that he learns and adapts to his mistakes and his largely successful time in Clare propelled him to become an even better manager upon his arrival in Wexford.
You only have to look at the immediate impact he had in the sunny south-east and the lift Davymania gave them. They were Leinster champions in year three and unlucky not to make the All-Ireland final later that season.
What seems to be constant is that Davy is at his best in a three-year period, and with the lifespan of this Waterford team probably looking to be in or around that, Davy’s drive, hunger and will to win might be the tonic which they need right now.
The big question is: will Davy and this group of players get married and have a happy ending during that time-frame? When asked on my view of the appointment, my response is always that I reckon it is a good one and maybe Davy is the perfect fit for what this group of players need now.
He must be delighted with the talent at his disposal – players hitting their peak like Austin Gleeson, Jamie Barron and Dessie Hutchinson – in contrast to the job he had to do in ‘08 when rebuilding a new team. And while some managers love a clean break from previous set-ups, maintaining Tony Browne’s knowledge and link is key.
Browne was very well received by the squad this year and he knows what went wrong under Liam Cahill, with the word on the street being that the training was off the scales between the Limerick and Cork ties.
Waterford chairman Seán Michael O’Regan was quick to go on WLR FM, encouraging everyone to back Davy, as a decent section of Déise supporters is questioning if he is the right call.
The comments on social media after Waterford GAA announced his two-year term, with an option for a third year, read more bad than good, and he will have to win the public over like he has done in each of his three inter-county hurling jobs so far.
Davy is the type of figure you will either love or loathe, but one thing for sure is that he’ll give this project 110pc, give everything for the cause. I expect the players to do the same under him.
Will there be falling-outs? Possibly, because he’s an all-or-nothing guy, and his approach mightn’t be to the liking of every player. Also, it’s next to impossible to keep 36 players happy.
He ran into the same problems with us in the first two years and his approach won’t be any different. He will demand the players give a total buy-in and I’d expect there to be a kick out of this group of players off the back of a championship low.
While it’s disappointing to hear Shane and Kieran Bennett will be abroad, it’s a massive plus that Stephen is staying around. There will be sceptics of Davy in Waterford, but that needs to be parked now.
Row in behind him and the players, let’s see where this project takes us. There will be no talk of All-Ireland titles next year, getting out of Munster will be the sole goal, but who knows? By 2024 or ‘25, we might yet enjoy that big day in the sun.