Saturday 24 March 2018

Fitzgerald facing stiff task to restore Model's lustre

Davy Fitzgerald walks into the Wexford dressing room in July 2014 to congratulate them on their victory over Clare - next time he walks in, he will be their manager Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Davy Fitzgerald walks into the Wexford dressing room in July 2014 to congratulate them on their victory over Clare - next time he walks in, he will be their manager Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Michael Verney

The bar for success in Wexford hasn't been set too high for Davy Fitzgerald, with county chairman Diarmuid Devereux hoping to secure a "top six" berth during the Clare man's three-year term, but it isn't going to be plain sailing for the new Model boss.

There was widespread shock when Fitzgerald stepped back into inter-county management just a fortnight after relinquishing the reins with the Banner, and while it has generated excitement in the sunny south east, he faces many challenges to achieve his brief.

Having watched Wexford at close quarters as they derailed Clare's back-to-back All-Ireland bid two years ago, Fitzgerald certainly knows what the current crop are capable of.

Twelve of the starting 15 from that qualifier tie are still available, with Keith Rossiter the most sizeable absentee due to retirement; a further seven subs introduced that day are still on the scene.

Bells and whistles

However, this year's qualifier defeat of Cork aside, Wexford have fallen down the pecking order shipping heavy defeats to Dublin and Waterford.

Fitzgerald has a proven track record with LIT, Waterford and Clare but behind all the bells and whistles of his appointment, there's serious work ahead.

Wexford lacked consistency under Liam Dunne's stewardship and the 2013 All-Ireland-winning manager faces a difficult task to blend youthful personnel from the three-in-a-row Leinster U-21 successes with experience.

Having their manager JJ Doyle, who will also take charge of the intermediates, alongside him as selector will help but expectations shouldn't skyrocket.

Wexford stand around ninth place in the pecking order, with Clare, Limerick, Dublin and Cork in touching distance , but this year's four All-Ireland semi-finalists streets ahead.

Lacking steel in the mould of greats like Dunne, Darragh Ryan and Rossiter, Fitzgerald is likely to adopt a sweeper system to make them competitive and ensure they aren't hit for large tallies similar to this year's defeats to the Dubs and the Déise.

It will take time for his ideas to bed in but with brilliant young hurlers such as Liam Ryan and Conor McDonald in their ranks, there's plenty of raw material to work with.

Their attack has struggled to make inroads when it really matters, however, with returns of 12 and 11 points in their most recent Championship reversals.

Rediscovering Paul Morris' mojo will be key and while they still have classy defenders in the likes of Ryan, Matt O'Hanlon and Diarmuid O'Keeffe, the problem lies higher up.

Fitzgerald faces a dilemma with Lee Chin. If ever there was a player that Wexford needed two of, it's Chin. Equally effective at centre-back or centre-forward, this team could be built around the Faythe Harriers powerhouse but his talents may be needed up front.

Another potential match-winner is Jack Guiney. Off the county squad as much as he's been on it in recent years, getting the Rathnure ace on board would be a huge feather in the new boss' cap.

Fitzgerald toes a strict disciplinary line and rarely loses his best players; Kevin Foley, another exciting attacker, will need to be coaxed back.

Lady Luck hurt Dunne's final year with a lengthy long-term injury list including Andrew Shore, Shane Tomkins and David Redmond while Liam Óg McGovern suffered the cruciate curse in club action recently.

Fitzgerald should have them all available, and he'll need them with challenging times ahead.

Irish Independent

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