For all that went wrong, Fitzgerald is still happy he did all he could. “You have to ask yourself did you do everything possible, were you as honest as you could possibly be, and I can say that. That’s for sure.” (Which is why, presumably, the team wasn’t as announced, when all and sundry knew young Brian O’Halloran was starting, as forecast on our front page last Friday. And if they knew about it in Portlaw, they knew it in Carrick.)
The Clareman, whose commitment, for one thing, can’t be questioned, clearly thinks he’s on the right path. “I’m delighted with what we’ve done so far, with a team that were a spent force, that weren’t in the top four. They’re there every year since I came in and that’s not too bad.” The actual facts are that Waterford were in the top four in both the two seasons before he arrived (2006, ’07 semi-finalists).
Ger Loughnane predicts “a period of transition” for Waterford now, reckoning “Fitzgerald, if he stays on, has to blood even more players in next year’s league.” Moreover, “he has to get Waterford back to their free-spirited style of old,” he says, arguing “Waterford have been going in for a poor imitation of Kilkenny’s style but they are going nowhere that way. They need to get back to basics and take some of the pressure off Mullane up front,” he observes, decrying his former ’keeper’s “poor, overly-defensive tactics”.
The unflattering Kilkenny comparison is on the money. Vincent Hogan began a lengthy preview piece in Saturday’s Indo with a revealing little anecdote. ‘The day of the All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals, Davy Fitzgerald bumped into Brian Cody at Croke Park. They exchanged pleasantries and a little small-talk, Cody congratulating Fitzgerald on Waterford’s Munster final replay defeat of Cork. Davy chuckled that not everyone in the county was happy with the new style of Waterford’s hurling. Cody smiled. The idea that people might mistake hurling as some kind of preening fashion show would be anathema to everything that draws him to the game. “Davy, I’m sure that won’t bother you,” said Cody. “Write it down,” grinned the Waterford manager.’
Hogan added: “If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Cody can take some pleasure in the obstinacy of the new Waterford. For Kilkenny’s is the template that fascinates Fitzgerald most and the one that has most informed the dramatic re-invention of his team.”
Yet it’s ironic that it was Waterford, under Justin McCarthy, who were the last team to beat Kilkenny in a really meaningful match (the National League decider three years ago).