Davy Fitz and Wexford getting used to that winning habit
Manager the calmest person in Wexford Park during thrilling endgame with Cork
Wexford’s Cathal Dunbar claims the sliotar from Cork’s Seán O’Donoghue during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1A match at Innovate Wexford Park. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Wexford 0-21 Cork 1-14
Wow. Imagine a game where Davy Fitz is the calmest person on the ground, while all around him is the sound and fury of armed rebellion.
On the field, his Wexford team are putting the final crush on Cork. In the stands the Wexford supporters are fighting with them every inch of the way. It’s brilliant and compelling to watch, that of course being entirely neutral.
Either way, anyone who feared that Davy Fitz factor might wear a little thin in this his second season as Wexford hurling manager can rest assured: if anything the 2018 model have upped the efficiency and the power, unbeaten this season and fast setting the pace in Division 1A.
Still early days, maybe, but all part of the Davy Fitz philosophy in hurling existentialism. “We made it hard on ourselves in the end,” he says afterwards, standing in the last rays of beaming sunshine. “But you know what? Aren’t we better to have battles like that where we’re actually coming out on top?
“That’s what we want. And the atmosphere there in the end was incredible. I know some of our players didn’t play as well as they normally could, but to win a tight one like that is good for us. People say it’s very early in the year. I don’t really care. When you play hurling, you go out to win every game you can and that’s the way I’ve always approached it. To me getting into a winning habit is not a bad habit.”
Wexford are certainly finding that habit hard to shake. They trailed Cork until early in the second half, then kicked on with ferocious intent: from Liam Ryan at full back, Diarmuid O’Keeffe and the impeccable Aidan Nolan through the middle, Lee Chin and Paul Morris up front, they soon had Cork in a desperate retreat. Even still Wexford hit 12 wides in that second half, some of which were fantastically poor.
In limiting Cork to just five second-half points they got away with that – no less deserving winners though. David Dunne, who hit 2-2 against Waterford last week, didn’t play because of a family bereavement; Jack Guiney and Harry Kehoe came off the bench and both made marginal gains – Guiney’s first levelling it again on 64 minutes, after Cork had briefly rallied.
Four more unanswered points, including a monster free from Guiney, and the battle and war was Wexford’s. Cork’s younger legs faded somewhat and they lost Séamus Harnedy to illness too, although it wasn’t a hopeless surrender. They’d started well and after 21 minutes had seven scores, seven different scorers, including Conor Lenane’s goal after just five minutes, partly aided by Matthew O’Hanlon slipping.
Lehane had another goal chance not long after, then Cork didn’t get as much as a sniff: Ryan is fast turning into one of the best full backs in the game, and the Wexford defence held Cork at safe distance for most of the second half.
All the while Davy Fitz stood calm, unlike the Wexford supporters in another bumper crowd of around 8,000: “Listen, there are times to get animated. I’ve left this up to the players. They know they story. They’re just told go out and hurl. We just let them off, let them at it, and I think they are getting more confident.
“And I’ve said it the last few times, the supporters make such a difference. Even when we’re doing things wrong, they’re not negative. If you get negative, it affects us, the players. We’re not going to get over the line if they’re not behind us. We will hit a patch where we lose a few games, but you know what? Wexford are rightly up there and thereabouts, not at the top yet, but we’re not 100 miles off it.”
Morris, Nolan and Kevin Foley all finished with three each from play, Chin with 0-6, three from play – his physicality around the field only getting more effective, although he did strike a few of those few wides. Conor McDonald showed up for a lot of ball too, striking one over late in the first half when Wexford needed the lift.
Still the game was there for Cork on 63 minutes when substitute Shane Kingston put them back up by a point, 1-14 to 0-16. Instead they didn’t score again, and manager John Meyler doesn’t deny the reason why. “In the last five minutes, Wexford really threw the kitchen sink at us,” he says. “It was nearly a championship match on the first weekend of February, the intensity and the speed were incredible, the crowd on their feet.
“Wexford were a bit more composed at the end and got critical scores, they’re more competitive than us at the moment, they’re probably two weeks ahead of us, but I’m delighted with the commitment we showed, just a small bit of composure at the end cost us. Wexford were ferociously competitive and intense. When the ground is harder it’ll go quicker and we’ll be better. I’m disappointed with the result but a very good performance.”
WEXFORD: M Fanning (0-1, a free); D Reck, L Ryan, S Murphy; P Foley, M O’Hanlon, S Donohue; K Foley (0-3), D O’Keeffe (0-1); A Nolan (0-3), L Chin (0-6, two frees, one 65) J O’Connor; C McDonald (0-1), P Morris (0-3), C Dunbar.
Subs: W Devereux for Reck (28 mins, inj), J Guiney (0-2, one free) for O’Connor (53), H Kehoe (0-1) for Dunbar (61).
CORK: P Collins; S O’Donoghue, C O’Sullivan, E Cadogan; C Joyce, T O’Mahony, M Ellis; D Fitzgibbon (0-1), D Kearney; R O’Flynn (0-1), C Lehane (1-2, one free), B Cooper (0-1); A Cadogan (0-2), P Horgan (0-4, three frees), S Harnedy (0-1).
Subs: L Meade for Harnedy (half-time, illness), S Kingston (0-1) for Cooper, B Lawton for Fitzgibbon (both 47 mins), D Cahalane for Kearney (55), M Cahalane (0-1) for Horgan (60), J O’Connor for A Cadogan (68).
Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow).