Davy vs Cody holds the key as Wexford look to end long Leinster title wait against old enemy Kilkenny
DAVY FITZGERALD has a proven record of delivering silverware as a hurling manager.
While his critics might rail at his methods, his capacity to manage counties to win trophies is beyond doubt.
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He was only 38 when he took over as Waterford manager in the early summer of 2010 following the departure of Justin McCarthy after the Déise’s loss to Clare in the Munster Championship. Under his watch, Waterford achieved a remarkably quick turnaround in their fortunes.
After wins over Antrim, Offaly and Wexford, Waterford suddenly found themselves in an All-Ireland semi-final. This is where they had repeatedly failed during the previous decade, losing five penultimate ties to Kilkenny (1998), Clare (2002), Kilkenny again (2004), Tipperary (2006) and Limerick (2007). At the sixth time of asking, and against all the odds, Waterford finally won a semi-final when they beat Munster champions Tipperary to reach their first All-Ireland final in 45 years.
Alas, for Waterford there was no fairy-tale ending to their odyssey as they ran into the Cats at their absolute peak and suffered a 23-point drubbing.
In the end, Fitzgerald didn’t deliver silverware until his third season in charge when the Déise beat Cork – courtesy of a Dan Shanahan goal in extra time – in a replay to win the Munster title. Curiously, they haven’t won a provincial title since.
The 2011 season was anti-climactic. Tipperary decoded Waterford’s defensive system in the Munster final and hit seven goals to win by 21 points. The Déise managed to regroup, though Kilkenny again ended their All-Ireland ambitions, beating them by six points in the semi-final.
Fitzgerald departed soon afterwards, but he wasn’t long idle as on October 11, 2011 he was confirmed as the new Clare manager for a three-year term.
He had won two All-Ireland medals with Clare as a goalkeeper and he delivered again as a manager when the Banner beat Cork in the 2013 All-Ireland final replay.
Clare never reached the same heights again, though they did win the Allianz League title in 2016, when they beat Waterford in a replay. Fitzgerald left the post the following September.
Again he was scarcely a month idle when he was recruited by Wexford. He pleaded for patience after his appointment.
"Let’s see at the end of two years where I am. If I have made an improvement and we are really up there or thereabouts, then great. But I don’t expect anything in the short term."
Wexford did make significant progress in Fitzgerald’s first season, fashioning their first Championship win over Kilkenny for 13 years. But they proved no match for Galway in the 2017 Leinster final.
Last summer they were less successful. After finishing third in the round-robin series they bowed out of the All-Ireland race at the quarter-final stage, losing by seven points to Clare.
All the indications were that Fitzgerald would bow out. But after being visited in his Clare home by a deputation of Wexford hurlers, he agreed to stay on.
Regardless of how they fare this summer, it is unlikely that he will be in charge in 2020.
Wexford are unlikely to win the All-Ireland so today’s Leinster final represents Fitzgerald’s best chance of keeping his record of winning significant silverware in every county he has managed.
This is the first provincial decider between the counties since 2008 and as a student of hurling, Fitzgerald will have noted that Wexford have never beaten the Cats in a Leinster final since Brian Cody took charge.
Wexford’s last provincial final win over Kilkenny was in 1997.
Since then they have been on the receiving end of repeated losses, with Kilkenny beating them in 2001 (by 13 points), 2002 (2 points), 2003 (11 points) 2005 (3 points), 2006 (8 points), 2007 (15 points) and 2008 (19 points).
By then, Wexford had been demoralised to such an extent by these drubbings that they didn’t feature in another provincial final until Fitzgerald led them to the their 2017 appearance.
Fitzgerald loves pitting himself against Cody, and his head-to-head record is not to be sneezed at. In the 10 clashes between their respective teams in the Walsh Cup, Allianz League and Leinster championship, Fitzgerald holds a 5-4 lead with one draw, though Wexford’s 2018 Walsh Cup final win came via a shoot-out.
But what better way for Fitzgerald to bow out of the Leinster series than by bringing the Bob O’Keeffe Cup back to the land of the Purple and Gold for the first time since 2004.
Davy Fitz's record with Wexford vs Brian Cody
Walsh Cup semi-final:
Kilkenny 0-15; Wexford 0-14
NHL Quarter final:
Wexford 2-18; Kilkenny 0-19
Leinster SHC semi-final:
Wexford 1-20; Kilkenny 3-11`
Walsh Cup final:
Wexford 1-24; Kilkenny 1-24 aet
Wexford won 3-2 in free-taking competition
NHL: Kilkenny 0-22; Wexford 0-19
Kilkenny 1-27; Wexford 2-15
Leinster SHC Round Robin: Kilkenny 0-22; Wexford 1-18
Walsh Cup semi-final:
Wexford 0-16; Kilkenny 0-13
NHL: Wexford 1-19; Kilkenny 1-12
Leinster SHC Round Robin: Wexford 0-21; Kilkenny 1-18