Davy exits with a parting shot at RTE pundits
Deise advance as Fitzgerald slams criticism of sweepers
No one ever thought Davy Fitzgerald would exit the race for Liam MacCarthy with a gentle murmur; without a parting shot at some named or unidentified 'enemy', did they?
It happened in the new and resplendent Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday, as Wexford lost to Waterford by a misleadingly close four points in this sweeper-dominated, anything-but-classic All-Ireland SHC quarter-final.
Cynical press veterans might even argue that what followed in the managerial post-match briefing was far more interesting that the match itself.
RTÉ pundits Michael Duignan and Henry Shefflin were in the Wexford manager's firing line as he launched a broadside against the criticism of the sweeper systems employed by both himself and his Waterford counterpart, Derek McGrath.
Curiously, neither the Offaly All-Ireland winner nor the Kilkenny icon were on The Sunday Game Live yesterday afternoon, but they both posted tweets that were critical of the defensive tactics on show. "Let me say this straight out, Michael Duignan and Henry have never managed a team at a high level," Fitzgerald retorted (although Meath hurling diehards may beg to differ).
"The people need to wake up," he continued. "If they want the same one or two teams to play hurling and be successful that's fine. Myself and Derek are trying to bring teams to the fore that haven't been to the fore in a long time.
"It's great for the likes of Michael Duignan, he should have had an opinion on something recently and he didn't have it and he should have stood up. It's time now Michael Duignan stopped this messing."
The Waterford boss also addressed the criticism of Messrs Duignan and Shefflin but he was far more circumspect, concluding: "I wouldn't hear tell of arguing against what they'd know about hurling."
Not surprising, perhaps, when you've won the game - but of far graver concern to McGrath was the straight red card brandished to Tadhg de Búrca, of which more anon.
As it was, McGrath had a vocal Slaneyside champion of his tactics. As everyone had predicted, this mirrored Wexford's seven defenders and usually entailed Darragh Fives and de Búrca as dual sweepers.
The tactic worked in that goal chances were at a relative premium; but it also contributed to plentiful examples of passes out of defence being misdirected straight to the opposition.
Cue the following Twitter contribution from Shefflin, who posted: "Who is marking who in this game ? One would hate to be playing in the full forward line - or be a forward full stop."
Duignan was even more pointed, tweeting: "Sweepers should be outlawed! Not the game I love. Coach players to tackle & to use their heads instead of using extra backs to compensate!"
Not that Fitzgerald was willing to concede to the critics even as Wexford's epic 2017 journey reached its end game.
"The job Derek McGrath has done and the stick he has taken is totally unwarranted ... I am backing him 100pc," the Clareman declared.
"You tell me that's a bad game of hurling, some of the scores? Short and long ball, every sort of ball - or do we just play the long ball and hit it and that's it?
"I don't agree with that and I think they are totally out of order. I think that RTÉ should go and have a look at themselves and get analysts who have been on the sideline ... [it's] easy knock people. I'd like to see their track records when it comes to it, when it comes to managing, because it's a lot different than playing, I can promise you that."
Fitzgerald later expanded: "Everything has to be negative and when something has to be said a few weeks ago, they bottled it, one or two of them. It's easy jump on a bandwagon when I got my suspension ... it's easy jump on one side for an easy target."
Meanwhile, long before Davy's diatribe, we had a match that won't go down in living memory as one of the new Páirc's all-time classics.
Fitzgerald correctly cited Kevin Moran's injury-time goal, to leave Waterford 1-12 to 0-10 clear at the break, as the most decisive score. It stemmed from a cheap defensive turnover, allowing Shane Bennett to release the Waterford captain whose low ground shot did the rest.
A three-point riposte on the restart, via Liam Ryan, excellent rookie Rory O'Connor and Lee Chin, briefly made it a two-point game. But, thereafter, Waterford's edge in physicality, experience - and their bench, with Maurice Shanahan and Brian O'Halloran landing a brace apiece - proved decisive.
They were eight ahead in injury time before Jack Guiney's sixth pointed free and Jack O'Connor's goal on the rebound after a blocked Guiney free took the bare look off the scoreline.
By then, though, Waterford had something else to worry about as they prepare for either Cork or Galway. De Búrca's 66th minute straight red card, for an apparent face-guard pulling offence, means he will miss their semi-final barring video evidence to clear his name.