'That man would die for us, and we'd die for him' - Wexford captain hails Davy Fitzgerald after Leinster win
HE could have kicked his feet up on a table in the bowels of Croke Park and pulled out his pipe and slippers, such was the look of contentment on the face of Davy Fitzgerald after achieving what few thought possible.
While there had been some glimpses of their potential, Fitzgerald took over a Wexford side that was in rag order and turned them into Leinster champions - their first Bob O'Keeffe Cup since 2004 - just three years later.
Joint-captain Matt O'Hanlon summed up the special bond between players and manager off the Hogan Stand steps - "that man would die for us, and we'd die for him!" - and Fitzgerald basked in ripping up the script once again.
"I remember when I went to Wexford first, a lot of people told me 'don't bother, they haven't a chance of doing nothing'. I f**king loved when that final whistle went. There is nothing that can't be achieved in life, or nothing that can't be done. I'm one of them people," a beaming Fitzgerald said.
"If you come down to our training you would know what it is like. They come in an hour beforehand. They belt out the tunes, we'll all sit down and chat for a while. I want it to be an environment where they come to enjoy what they do.
"The emotion feels the exact same for me, whether it is winning with Clare as a player or as a manager, winning with Waterford. Just happy to see those boys so happy. If I told you half the stuff them boys said to me when the final whistle went... it makes it so worthwhile."
Goalkeeper Mark Fanning came up trumps with the game's defining moment when coolly slotting home a penalty in the 63rd minute - after the brilliant Rory O'Connor was hauled down - with Fitzgerald not bothering to watch, such was his confidence in the Glynn-Barntown net minder.
"I knew he was going to score it. And that's not rubbish; I didn't (watch). Because I was turning to Seoirse (Bulfin) about something, he said 'are you going watching?' I said, 'I don't need to… he'll score'."
By adding a Leinster title with the Model men to a Munster crown with Waterford and All-Ireland and league titles with his native Clare - as well as two Fitzgibbon Cups with Limerick IT - Fitzgerald has created his own piece of history.
Where does this success rank on that stellar managerial CV?
"It's right up there. People thought I was off my head going down there. Love it. Any team that's out there, just stay with it. Stay believing. Get something that suits you. You never know what's happening. I love that about the GAA," Fitzgerald said.
"We do bring a lot of people in around us (the squad) that aren't as fortunate. You take young Michael (O'Brien) from Kerry that came into us this year, if you'd seen the speech he gave before the Tipp game (in the league).
"All the boys thought I put him up to it, I didn't say a word to him. He actually told them it's about time they start living their dream. This is a young guy that was blind and it registered big time with the lads."
Insisting that he was a perfect fit for Wexford as "they're half-mad and I'm half-mad" - and in spite of the six-hour round-trip from his home in Sixmilebridge - victory was also vindication for a much-maligned sweeper system which his squad "never knocked", even in difficult times.
"The sweeper system, I'm telling you 100pc, I am certain is not a negative system. It just needs to be shown the way it operates, which is very important. It is good for hurling, not bad. I'm a hurling person," the 47-year-old said.
"The big thing for me is I've asked them to do stuff that sometimes you might question. They didn't question. They bought into everything. And if you get a team that buy into stuff, you've a chance of doing stuff.
"And I kind of enjoy that. I enjoy going down to Wexford, making people smile, and it's just been a great journey; I kind of don't want it to stop. But we'll see what happens."
Defender Shaun Murphy was effusive in his praise of a "pure winner" in Fitzgerald and described the belief which he has brought to the sunny south east.
"Whether it's hurling or cards or table tennis, he just wants to win. You could be playing on weekends away and it could be cards or it could be table tennis and it'd be winner stays on and Davy comes on board and it's a tournament. You have to win," Murphy quipped.
"And he instils that into us. We have to and we want to win every game. Everything we do, I suppose we want to do it, we've been craving that success over the last while and I suppose he's won it as a player and as a manager and when he tells us we're good enough, you believe him."
Nothing gives Fitzgerald more satisfaction than competing against 11-time All-Ireland-winning Kilkenny boss Brian Cody - "the best manager I've ever seen" - and he intends to soak up every ounce of satisfaction before turning his eyes to the All-Ireland semi-final later in the week.
"The battles with Kilkenny are incredible. I would have incredible respect for their manager and for their county. I'm not afraid of Kilkenny and never have been, but I'd respect them," he said.
"I want to train my teams to compete with them and beat them if they can. That's a mark of respect to them and what they've done for hurling over the last 15 years. They're still there and going no place. I wouldn't like to be the team that will meet them."
The Cats couldn't stem the Wexford tide after Fanning fired to the net, quickly followed by a peach from Liam Óg McGovern, and there was an unusual panic about them in the closing minutes as they refused a couple of routine scoring opportunities to instead force the issue and seek a green flag.
For Cody, it was all about the next day: "We leave today in the quarter-final of the Championship. That's the most important thing really."