“Keep working lads, keep working,” demanded Davy Fitzgerald on a soaking Carrickbeg sideline last Wednesday.
Like a coiled spring, just as he was when standing between the uprights for Clare, Fitzgerald was unrelenting in the vocal department. Urging. Encouraging. Cajoling.
One senses, from a player’s perspective that you never get a second’s peace from him. If he is on his toes, then so are you. He can’t work any other way.
Work on the ‘difficult second album’ has just begun and what tune Waterford will strum during 2009 is anyone’s guess at this early juncture.
But the nature of last week’s display against a more experienced Tipperary side was enormously encouraging as far as the Deise manager was concerned.
“Given the team we had out, and the conditions and the experience Tipp had out, I was more than happy,” he said. “We could have snatched it.”
“What I was looking for from them was serious work and tackling and effort and while our backs did okay in the first half, I wasn’t happy with our attack.
“We had a few words at half time and sorted it out a bit better, probably played a different shape in the second half, we bunched it a small bit more around the middle and took out the corners a bit.
“We worked a lot harder and we really threw ourselves into the tackle and that’s what I want to see from Waterford, a bit of commitment.”
For the first time in his managership, Fitzgerald acknowledged the changing of the guard within the panel, already manifesting itself given the retirements of Paul Flynn, Tom Feeney and Dave Bennett.
“I don’t think Waterford have been thinking about that enough over the last few years,” he continued.
“Every team comes to an end and you need new players and you’ve got to blood them and I think it’s about time we blood some more new players. And if we do take a big beating or two, so what?
“The big objective here is that we’ll be performing when the championship comes with a good solid team and please God we won’t be too far away when that challenge comes.”
Added Fitzgerald: “We’ve a lot of work to do. Tonight was out first collective session. I can tell you for a fact it wouldn’t have been Tipperary’s first collective session or anything even near that. We’ve a lot of work to do and we can’t be fooled, but I’ll take tonight – it was satisfactory enough.”
The nature of Waterford’s comeback, having trailed Tipperary by seven points on two occasions in the first half, was a source of great encouragement to the Deise manager.
“I said to them at half-time to forget about [being nervous], let themselves go and have a cut at it,” he added. “And they did, and attacked the ball a bit more in the second half. I was happy with our guys.
“We haven’t any serious physical work done yet – there’s just been a small bit of gym work done – but over the next two or three months we’ll make up for that.”
So what’s next for Team Waterford?
“We’ll be battling hard in the league. We’re going to be down six or seven lads, we know that already. Any team to be missing six or seven of your main lads is a lot to be missing in the league. Let’s battle hard and see what happens in the league. I’ll be trying hard.
“The main goal is June 14th, that’s all I’ll say on that. Whatever happens in the league will happen; we’ll be trying hard, but it’d be nice to get the six lads back as soon as we can and have everyone fighting for places…
“There might be a bit of tiredness for the first few games of the league but you have no other choice but to get the lads as ready as you can for June.
“It’s about June, it’s not about February 8th; come the middle of summer you won’t be talking to be about February 8th and how we played [then] or anything like that so whatever comes will come. I just hope the public will be a bit patient.”
Fitzgerald, by his own admission doesn’t think much of the experimental rule changes introduced for the spring’s action.
“Tonight wasn’t too bad, but I’ve been at one or two games when it hasn’t been so good. It’s going to take that physical contact element out of the game that we have – like, there isn’t a whole pile wrong with the rules that we have.
“The only thing I would have looked at in the rules over the last two or three years is the flicking back of the hurley and a few other dangerous things that need to be cut out of our game.
“There’s one or two teams flicking back the whole time after they get the ball, hurleys coming back and meeting people and that needs to be stamped out.”
He continued: “But God almighty, sending a player off for putting his arms upright and a fella running into him, or maybe pulling a jersey – let’s not go there. It’s crazy…
“Basically, I think a lot of these rules were brought in more for football rather than hurling and if they feel it has be done for that, fine, that’s no problem. I’d leave a game that’s working alright the way it is.”
Following last Wednesday’s match, Fitzgerald shared quiet words outside the dressing room door with two players, firstly Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh and then Ken McGrath.
Just minutes earlier, speculation on a different approach to the captaincy in 2009 had emerged, which duly led to the inevitable question about who’d be leading the team this year. Had Fitzgerald and selectors Peter Queally and Maurice Geary made a decision?
“We have, yeah,” said Fitzgerald. “I’m gonna hold for another week or two when we’ve the exact panel named. It’ll be a bit different than most counties, what we’ll do. I’m very happy with the choice we’ve made in that.
“We’ll just wait at the end of January for it to be announced. We probably have six lads who’ll have to go off our panel at the moment and I don’t want to announce captaincies or anything like that until the panel is ready… You’ll see in two weeks time what the story is, you’ll see.”
There was much optimism in the Carrickbeg air last midweek, and with just cause given the efforts extolled by Noel Connors, Shane Casey and Jamie Nagle to name but three.
It’s a mood Davy Fitzgerald hopes can be maintained into and beyond the League campaign.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” he refrained. “It was important to give the players a breather for the few months after the All-Ireland.
“You have to be fresh going into this and I’m confident enough that things will come right if we stay with it and do the right things.”