How Wexford players' trip to Clare reaped rewards and helped grow special bond with Davy Fitzgerald
With Wexford basking in the glory of a first Leinster title in 15 years, the contrast with just under 12 months ago couldn't be more stark.
The Leinster Championship had unravelled after back-to-back defeats to Galway and Kilkenny. And a season-ending defeat to Davy Fitzgerald's home county of Clare in the All-Ireland series meant that a facile preliminary quarter-final win over Westmeath was the Model's only win in their final four Championship games.
But while the knives were out for Fitzgerald in some corners of Wexford, that clearly wasn't the case within the squad.
It's a matter of record that it was the convoy of Wexford players who travelled down to Fitzgerald's home in Sixmilebridge who persuaded him to stay on for another year. And Herald GAA correspondent Conor McKeon believes it was that gesture that laid the foundations for Sunday's triumph.
"This time last year they were so poor that night against Clare. The thing about Davy is you get an initial surge and it's about maintaining the surge as long as possible. The player's enthusiasm, the enthusiasm of the pubic. And when it goes wrong, it tends to go really wrong really quickly," said McKeon, speaking on Independent.ie's Throw-In podcast, in association with Bord Gais Energy.
"To get it back up to that level again is an incredible achievement. I remember interviewing Lee Chin last year and he revealed that a load of the Wexford players had gone down to Sixmilebridge to try and convince Davy to stay.
"You got a sense that there's a genuine warmth between Davy and the players. Even Davy himself has been in situations with Waterford and definitely the last couple of years with Clare where it probably went a bit frosty. But despite the fact that they had a bad year last year and despite the fact that they hadn't really won anything, the fondness works both ways."
That fondness has clearly survived an intense workload and Fitzgerald's comments after the game also grabbed McKeon's attention, with the work involved a fair trade-off for the tactical awareness the All-Ireland winner brings to the table.
"He said something really interesting after the game when he said 'people have no idea what I put these guys through' and I'd love to have him expand on it," he concluded.
"If you can basically torture fellas and they still retain that warmth for you and if you know what you're at when it comes to setting up a team which Davy obviously does, you can make a team very, very effective.
"Even making Kevin Foley a sweeper, you'd never have thought that was on when he was a young player up front. The way they use Sean Murphy at times as well is ingenious.
"They can play it a number of different ways too, against Dublin in Parnell Park they generated an extra man with Murphy gathering 30-yard puck-outs and running all these lines and angles but against Kilkenny, it was completely different. It was really impressive and to win it down the stretch is a great sign of a team."