'I asked for 160 balls for the first night of training and they nearly had a seizure' - Davy Fitzgerald
Davy Fitzgerald’s adventure into the ‘unknown’ has helped Wexford into the unfamiliar territory of a Leinster final
The Leinster final is coming into view and Davy Fitzgerald is more relaxed than you might expect at his media briefing.
Wexford are training in the county's Centre of Excellence in Ferns but they are certainly not in 'lock down'. On the next pitch, Seamus McEnaney's footballers are going through their paces. A camogie team are also using the facility. There's even media knocking around watching the hurlers work and keeping an eye on Conor McDonald and his injured ankle. Wexford had been at a training camp the weekend before and likely did much of the preparation there.
Even still, the levels of paranoia you might expect are nowhere to be seen. It's clear that the Clare man feels at home in Wexford.
"Whatever it is here, I don't know, it seems as if there is an impression of 'whatever you want to do, just do. We are going to back you anyway'," he explained.
"It's lovely to get that sort of backing. It feels great and makes me want to work even harder. I am enjoying what I am doing and I kind of want it for them so badly.
"I have nearly done everything in the game I can do but I'd love if they could get one or two more of them big days ... jeez it would be great.
"I think it has helped hurling in general that another team has come up and said 'hey, we're here, we are still able to compete.'
"And that would be a big plus for me if we could hold where we are. My job was to get us to the top five or six sides and be there or thereabouts. I still think there is a lot of work to do.
"It is a tough hike from Clare," admits Fitzgerald. "I leave extremely early and I get home extremely late. And I have to say there are great people around here who put me up and that. But your home is your home."
With promotion to the top flight secured and a first Leinster final date in the diary since 2008, Fitzgerald can be more candid about the expectations he had for his side at the start of the year.
"The thing that got me going was that everyone had them wrote off so much, that they were more or less no-hopers and you were crazy going down there. I kind of liked that, people saying there wasn't a chance they will do anything.
"That motivates me a small bit, I enjoy that. When something isn't meant to be done, that you can go in and work extremely hard and you never know where it brings you. And listen, we got one or two breaks along the way, so we have."
From the start he tried to lay down a marker. He reckons some of the squad got a "shock" at their first training session. Fitzgerald admits he was essentially testing their character.
"You need mentally strong guys if you are going to the well boy. A fella might be the best hurler under the sun but if he's not prepared to go to the well, it ain't going to happen.
"I would love to f*****' tell you I knew exactly (how good they were). I had a feeling. I had seen certain things in them and I thought there might be more there, but I wasn't sure... you don't know until you go in there. You don't know.
"The way they worked for me from day one, they got a fair shock the first night when they went in for training, and they saw the intensity that I wanted.
"I suppose when I asked the county board for 160 balls for the first night in training, they nearly had a seizure. I told them I wanted that every night. It came as a bit of a shock. I think the lads have enjoyed it and bought into it big-time. It is going into the unknown now."
The unknown comes in the form of a Leinster final that will buzz with a new sense of anticipation given Kilkenny's absence. Croke Park officials reckon they could attract around 45,000 to the big house on Sunday, 15,000 more than last year's Leinster decider.
That will be new ground for many of his players and Fitzgerald believes Galway's experience of playing on the biggest of stages could give them an advantage.
"Most of these guys, the biggest crowd they would have played in front of was 25,000, maybe 30,000 for an All-Ireland quarter-final. They are going to play in front of 45 or 50,000, in that bracket. It is a big step up for them.
"They (Galway) have been in two All-Irelands, they have been in a league final. They have that experience, so they do, and that is a plus. I remember with Clare, when I was playing, we lost two Munster finals, got absolutely hammered.
"We were called bottlers, we were called everything under the sun. But yet, that experience stood to us. I think the experience of Galway losing one or two finals has stood to them and built their resilience, as you saw in the league final they weren't fazed.
"They were ready for road so that myth was blown out the door. And I think they are a stronger team for it."
Wexford are up against it. Fitzgerald wouldn't have it any other way.
Subscribe to The Throw-In, Independent.ie's weekly Championship podcast, for the best in GAA discussion and analysis every Monday, with some of the biggest names in football and hurling from Joe Brolly, Tomás Ó'Sé, Brendan Cummins and John Mullane.