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Davy Fitzgerald’s second coming is no guarantee of success for Waterford hurlers

Former boss returns to Deise hot seat after 11-year absence

Davy Fitzgerald is returning to Waterford after a spell as Wexford manager© SPORTSFILE

Davy Fitzgerald is congratulated after the All-Ireland Quarter Final win over Galway© SPORTSFILE

Waterford manager Davy Fitzgerald with the Munster Senior Hurling Trophy© SPORTSFILE

Sean McGoldrickSunday World

IT is a case of déjà vu for Davy Fitzgerald and Waterford with the Clare native returning to manage the Deise 11 years after his first stint in charge.

He had just retired as the Clare goalkeeper when he was appointed Waterford manager in June 2008 after a players’ revolt led to the premature departure of Justin McCarthy. Fitzgerald guided them to their first All-Ireland final appearance in 45 years later that summer.

Though they were humiliated by a Kilkenny side at the peak of their power, they came back to win a Munster title in 2010 – a feat they haven’t repeated since. He left in 2011 to take charge of his native Clare.

It is not a particularly new phenomenon for team managers to return to a county for a second term. But the sobering news for Waterford and Davy Fitz is that those who return for a second bite of the action have experienced mixed fortunes.

The obvious exception, of course, is Jack O’Connor. Though it would be fanciful to suggest that Jack is Kerry football’s version of Red Adair, they desperately needed him to deliver this year.

Davy Fitzgerald is congratulated after the All-Ireland Quarter Final win over Galway© SPORTSFILE

He didn’t disappoint, so the County Board will feel justified in their decision not to offer his predecessor Peter Keane an extension of his contract and opt to give O’Connor a third term instead.

After all, he had delivered in his two previous stints, winning his first title in 2004 and retaining it in 2006, after which he stepped down.

He was back in 2009 when Kerry won again but the rest of his second spell brought disappointment - particularly the final loss to Dublin in 2011.

Others have had successful second innings having failed first time around.

It is often overlooked that it was during Mick O’Dwyer’s second spell in Kildare that the Lilywhites won Leinster titles in 1998 and 2000 and reached the 1998 All-Ireland decider.

Arguably, the most spectacular managerial comeback of all time was fashioned by Dublin’s Mickey Whelan.

His first stint in charge of Dublin came when Pat O’Neill stepped down after the team had won the 1995 All-Ireland title – and it was a disaster.

Waterford manager Davy Fitzgerald with the Munster Senior Hurling Trophy© SPORTSFILE

The team suffered successive defeats to Meath in 1996 (in the Leinster final) and 1997 (in the quarter-final). He resigned after his side lost to Offaly in a league tie in Parnell Park when he was verbally abused by some Dublin fans.

But his comeback, as Pat Gilroy’s right-hand man, was spectacular – eventually. After being humiliated by Kerry in the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final, the pair rebuilt the team to their liking.

Unlucky to lose to Cork in the 2010 semi-final, Dublin reached the Promised Land with a dramatic win over Kerry in the 2011 final.

Elsewhere, Cork legend Billy Morgan had three different spells as manager of the Rebels – his second between 1986 and 1996 was the most productive with the Rebels, having first ended Kerry’s domination of the Munster championship before winning back-to-back All-Ireland titles in 1989 and 1990.

Initially, he was player-manager for one season with Cork in 1981. He returned for a third term between 2003 and 2007.

His best achievement in his latter term was guiding Cork to a Munster championship win in 2006. But having beaten Kerry in a provincial final replay they lost to them in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Bundoran hotelier Brian McEniff, who celebrates his 80th birthday in December, is unique among modern-day managers. He had five different spells as manager of his beloved Donegal.

He was player-manager when they won the won the Ulster title for the first time in 1972 and was at the helm again when they triumphed two years later.

After a break in 1975, during which he helped train Sligo during their successful Connacht championship campaign, he was back managing Donegal in 1976 and 1977.

His third stint spanned the years 1980 to 1986, with the highlight being an Ulster championship win in 1983.

His fourth term between 1989 and 1994 was the most successful, as Donegal won the All-Ireland for the first time in 1992.

And he had one final inning between 2003 and 2005. He was County Board chairman and when he couldn’t find anybody to manage the team he did it himself, guiding Donegal to an All-Ireland semi-final appearance ’03.

One of McEniff’s protégées, Declan Bonner, had two spells in charge of Donegal. In his first term between 1997 and 2000 the team failed to secure a provincial title, but they won back-to-back Ulster titles in 2018 and 2019 during his second spell, which just ended.

Other high-profile managers have been less successful second time around. Take your pick from the late Eamonn Coleman (Derry), John O’Mahony and James Horan (Mayo), Babs Keating (Tipperary) and Kieran Kingston (Cork).

In fairness to Horan, he guided Mayo to four All-Ireland final appearances in two different terms (2012 and 2013) and again in 2020 and 2021. But the big prize eluded him.

What is unique about Fitzgerald’s return to Waterford is that he is the first high-profile ‘outsider’ to be given a second chance.

But there is never any shortage of drama when Davy Fitz is patrolling the line. One suspects it will not be any different second time around in Waterford.

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