With ‘Bainisteoir’ emblazoned across his back, Davy Fitzgerald fielded the post-match questions at Walsh Park as comfortably as the many high balls that rained in on him during his days between the uprights.
“It’s a win and we’ve a lot of improving to do,” he said in the aftermath of Waterford’s 21-point victory over Antrim on Saturday.
“I wouldn’t think any of the four teams that are playing next week would be over worried about us still. We know we’ve a lot of work to do and we’ll knuckle down over the next week or two and get on with it.”
Fitzgerald conceded that his new charges were a little slow in rising from the starting blocks.
“Ah sure listen it’s five weeks since they played, number one. Number two, we were playing against a strong breeze. Number three, Antrim had two choices – either lie down and let us go at them or come out and attack us and I think they did that.
“I think they used the short ball well, bringing their half-forward line out nearly to midfield and our lads didn’t follow them. But we rectified that at half-time and that wasn’t going to happen again.”
What of Antrim? “They battled well. Antrim scored some good scores in the first half, whatever you like to say about them. They threw over the ball from 50, 60 yards no problem either side and we couldn’t do much about it.”
There were good wishes and pats on the back aplenty for the new Waterford boss, but he’s not getting too carried away with the early adulation heading his way.
“I’m getting a nice reaction until we get a beating or I do something wrong,” he said, grinning. “It’s a learning thing. All I can do is be honest. I’m giving it everything I have inside me and if I can look in the mirror the day after a game, that’s all I can do…
“I will make mistakes but I’m telling you, the very best of them out there that have won All-Irelands and lost them have made mistakes as well on the sideline – I’m being as honest as I can.”
A dead-rubber match like this was always destined to pose Fitzgerald some problems when it came to assessing the Waterford performance.
“Today was a difficult one because if you won by 20 points or if you won by two points you weren’t going to be a winner no matter what the story was,” said, Devils Advocate-like.
“The conditions weren’t exactly what I like. I like the conditions to be really hopping and moving for us, that’s what we’ve trained over the last three weeks in those conditions and it might suit us a bit better that way.
“But you have to take on whatever elements are there, whatever conditions are there. I’m just happy that the lads got out and got motoring again and might get rid of a bit of stick they’ve got.”
The questions continued and moved onto individual performances on the day.
Will Eoin Kelly remain in attack next time out?
“No, we’ll probably change the whole lot of that again the next day. I don’t know what way we’re going to line up the next day. I might have him out in midfield even, you don’t know, but you could play that lad in any place, you know.”
Was he pleased with Dan Shanahan’s contribution?
“Ah sure, Dan worked away hard enough. Dan did what he had to do today; won some lovely high balls – ‘tis great to see him winning some high balls in the air again and going forward.
“But he’ll keep improving and coming on. He’s working very hard in training, working very hard and that’s all I can ask of him. There’ll be no fear of Dan Shanahan, no fear of him.”
And what of Paul Flynn?
“He looked sharp enough there, nice touches and that. Flynner will be better when the pressure is on.”
His response to a question on Ken McGrath’s occupying the full-back slot drew arguably his most interesting comments of the afternoon.
“Ah sure I’m probably going to be hung out to dry if it doesn’t work, no doubting that,” said Fitzgerald.
“Look at Waterford over the last number of years. What’s beaten them? Limerick knocked five past them last year and I’m sure if Kilkenny had met them they’d have been saying the same thing: let’s go for it early and let’s got for it quick.
“That’s no disrespect to what Waterford had in there but there was goals there and that’s if you’re looking at it from the outside and I’m sure all ye guys that are reporting on it know that as well for the last year, so what am I meant to do?
“What’s the point having one of the best centre-backs in the country if the ball’s going to be stuck in the back of the neck behind him? I have to take a chance and see what happens. If it works I’ll be a great man and if it doesn’t I’ll be knifed left right and centre in the back.”
Edging towards the steps in advance of his post-match dressing room chat, Davy Fitzgerald threw out a few more nuggets before offering a ‘Good night and God bless’ to the print media.
“It’s good to win the game. That’s it. Listen, it’s a win, I’ll take my first championship game as a win and I don’t care who it’s against. That’s it, we move on.”
Any thoughts on next week’s Munster final in Limerick?
“Ah sure listen, I’m a Clareman as well at the end of the day and I hope Clare do really well next week.
“But I’m down here and I’ve a job to do in Waterford. I’ll be in shouting the (Clare) lads on next week but I’ve a job to do down here and I’ll be giving these lads everything I have inside me.
“You just get out and get stuck into it, the same was it was when I hurling. When it’s there, live it and enjoy the moment. You can only do your best.”