Willie Devereux benefitting from the Fitzy Factor
By John Harrington
Willie Devereux is a good example of how Davy Fitzgerald has improved many of the players he’s worked with since he became Wexford manager.
Until this year, the 26-year-old St. Martin’s man was very much a fringe figure.
He made his debut in the first round of the Leinster SHC against Offaly in 2012, but after Wexford were defeated in that game he was rarely seen in the starting XV again on big match-days.
Groin and wrist injuries that required surgery didn’t help his cause, and last year he was dropped off the panel entirely.
But since being invited back into the fold by Fitzgerald he has blossomed and finally started to fulfil the potential that was so apparent at underage level.
A sticky corner-back with the hurling to play his man from the front and get his head up before making a clearance, he admits he’s benefited a lot from working under Fitzgerald.
“He's very honest,” says Devereux. “He lays out his stall for what he wants you to do and how he wants you to do it and it's up to you to go at it then and stick to that and play the way he wants you playing.
“There's a great element of freedom there too to be honest. You can play what you see. He is good, he has great ideas and I enjoy working with him a lot.
“His attention to detail is very good and his honesty is just fantastic. It's nice to know what's going on and where you stand. You're given jobs and it's up to you to go and do it.
“I think we're all getting on grand, we hurl well but it's coming from a lot of hard work. We're getting on, we train hard and we work well together as a team. We all get on fairly well and we're happy in each other’s company.
“It's a nice place to come training and we all have a bit of a laugh and a joke. We get serious when it needs to be serious but it's a nice place to come on a Tuesday evening.”
Like the other defenders in this Wexford team, Devereux isn’t tasked simply to be a stopper.
The creation of overlaps and the exploitation of space is a big part of the Davy Fitzgerald game-plan, and corner-backs have the licence to be part of it by making themselves available for a pass.
“It's a fair enough assessment,” says Devereux. “But, look, he doesn't have us playing chess or anything.
“One of us doesn't just make one move and then that's it. At the end of the day we've two arms, two legs and a head as well.
“He can only put the plan in place and we can implement it or we can hurl it was we see in front of us as well. It's an enjoyable way to play hurling."
Perhaps typical of the corner-back species, Devereux is what you’d call a straight-talker.
There aren’t many frills to the way he plays the game, and his outlook on it is something similar.
The Leinster Semi-Final victory over Kilkenny in front of a packed Innovate Wexford Park was the biggest occasion he’s ever played in by some distance, but there was little danger of him being distracted by the circus surrounding the pitch itself.
“Not that you wouldn't notice it but you're doing your job,” he says.
“You're not standing looking into the crowd going, 'Where's Mammy, where's Daddy.' Do you notice that there's 18,000 people there or whatever there was, and most of them are shouting and screaming, you do notice it but we've a job to do.
“It's difficult to explain. You're in the middle of a game, you're not concentrating on the crowd I'd enough things going on to be honest without looking into the stand. There were times I was too tired to look around.
“Winning is a good feeling anyway, no matter if you're winning in front of 20,000 people, if you're winning league games or winning with your club, winning is a good feeling. That's what we want to keep doing.
“They said winning is a habit. It is in a way and it's always good to come back training after a win. It's always difficult coming back to training after a defeat. Wins are great, I'm not going to turn them down. We'll keep winning if we can and I won't be giving out about it.”
He certainly wouldn’t turn down a win over Galway in Sunday’s Leinster Final, but he’s not getting too starry-eyed either at the prospect of playing in such a showpiece match in front of an estimated 50,000 people, most of them wearing Wexford colours.
“I presume anyone that's ever picked up a hurley has wanted to play in Croke Park,” he says.
“In recent years Wexford haven't played there as much as we wanted. We have a game, it's in Croke Park and it's fine, we get on with it. We're not going to make a big furore over it or anything.
“You get on with it. If there's a big crowd there, there's a big crowd there. And if there's no-one there, there's no-one day. I'm not too picky to be honest. If you asked me to go play a Leinster final in Croke Park in the morning I'd go play.
“But once the game starts you forget about all that pretty quickly when you're coming up against those Galway forwards you don't have time to be thinking about it.
“We’ve a tough task ahead of us. They're a big, physical side. We played them already in the league but it's in Croke Park. It's a fine place to play but at the end of the day you just have to get on with the game.”