Waterford manager Davy Fitzgerald and selectors are similar studies in concentration during Sunday's NHL opener at Walsh Park.

Arms folded, eyes focused: Waterford manager Davy Fitzgerald and selectors are similar studies in concentration during Sunday

Davy Fitzgerald makes for great hurling theatre. Just watching him on the sideline could keep a scribbler several decades away from a pink slip.

Should we ever go down the ‘manager cam’ route on Irish telly, the Waterford manager could find himself in line for an IFTA.

When Clinton Hennessy strode forward to take a 21-metre free on the hour mark during Sunday’s NHL opener, the Clareman’s body language visibly shifted.

It was if he entered a time machine, zipped back to the 1995 Munster final in Thurles and was, like the Ardmore man on Sunday, standing over the sliothar, with only one thing on his mind.

Shoulders tightening, Fitzgerald took a few steps backwards on the sideline as Hennessy leaned forward, lifted the ball towards the base of his hurl and smashed the ball into the net at the Ballybricken end.

While Paul Kelly’s immediate goalscoring response made Hennessy’s goal a fleeting moment of euphoria for the home support, Fitzgerald was nonetheless pleased with his team’s effort.

“There’s a big difference in two or three weeks’ training,” said Fitzgerald as his panel went through a warm-down with Gerry Fitzpatrick.

“We’re definitely two or three weeks behind any of the rest of them and probably more behind some of them and you could see that out there today.

“Tipp brought on a few of their big guns at the end and unfortunately I had none of mine to bring on, they were all sitting above in the stand! But I’m delighted – we have to see what we’ve got.

“I’d say that was the slackest team that’s gone out for Waterford in the League in a long time; well, the most understrength team, people would say.

“But I’m happy with a few of the lads there and I’m going to have to persist and give them a few games. You can’t dismiss them after one game and we’ll see what happens.”

When asked about referee Barry Kelly’s performance, Fitzgerald was largely sympathetic towards the man in black.

“It was hard to ref today, you couldn’t say much about Barry Kelly on that. The only thing was a few different times I thought we were pulled and dragged and we didn’t get the frees and that’s been very straight about it.”

He added: “In fairness, he handled the game well. I thought he refereed it sensibly today, very sensibly given the conditions. There weren’t really any dirty strokes; there was a good lot of hard tackling and overall he handled it very well.

“To me, the rules were implemented properly today. There was maybe a reaction at the start [of the year] that [refs] were reacting too much in terms of pulling and dragging and giving out yellow cards. If there’s malice and intent in it, then fine, I agree 100 per cent with what they’ve got to do.”

Bizarrely, Kelly was forced to over-rule his umpires on four separate occasions during the match, which drew a grin from the Deise boss. “The sun was in their eyes, wasn’t it,” he said, to the amusement of the tape recording brigade.

“If it had happened a few more times, we would have been delighted. But at least he was on top of it. He’s his own man.”

And what of the trip back to Cusack Park next Sunday? “Sure they won’t be afraid of us, I’d say. They’ll be very strong but we’ll think about that during the week and reflect on what we can improve on.

“But the conditions were very bad today, ‘twas very touch and go whether it should have gone ahead today, you could see it yourself with the conditions. But fair play to both sets, they gave everything. Twas entertaining.”

Selector Maurice Geary sounded a similar positive note about the Deise display.

“Noel [Connors] did well; he maybe got caught for a goal towards the end but overall he had a good performance,” he said.

“Again I think Brick at centre-back did very well, Eoin Murphy too and Deccie [Prendergast] at full-back, we were very pleased with them.”

Medals may not have been at stake on Sunday, but the Ballyduff Upper man poured cold water on the notion that Waterford won’t be giving it their all during the NHL campaign.

“You hate losing. You’re always disappointed; I don’t care what type of game you’re playing, even if it’s only a challenge – you always want to win every game so naturally we’re disappointed.

“I suppose there are some positives to be taken from the game; we were missing seven regulars and we brought on four subs. We’re looking at players and while it’s all about the Championship at the end of the day, you always want to do well in the League.”