FORMER Cork ladies football boss Ephie Fitzgerald has in recent weeks been acclimatising to the task ahead of him in his new role as the Waterford senior football manager on a two-year term.
He replaces Shane Ronayne at the helm of the Déise, with the Mourneabbey manager going in the opposite direction to take over the Cork women's team.
To get an insight into the targets and expectations for while Nemo native Fitzgerald is at the helm, The Echo spoke with Waterford U20 football manager Gavin Whelan.
“I think there have been positive vibes since Ephie was appointed. He comes with a strong pedigree and passion for the game. I think when someone like Ephie Fitzgerald is coming down, I think the players will welcome his appointment.
I suppose he is coming down trying to put his stamp on trying to make Waterford competitive.
“He has promised to give it everything in the two years that he is here. Ephie has said he wants to bring things forward and improve the structures.
“I was chatting to him a couple of weeks ago. He was making the point and it is no secret, hurling is the number one game in Waterford.
“There is a cohort of people in Waterford that are doing a lot for Gaelic Football and want to put on that football jersey.
“So it is about Ephie developing that now, getting the panel of players together and seeing what he can do.
“Ephie is coming with plenty of pedigree and plenty of passion. I think that is what we need down here in Waterford to drive things forward.”
As the U20s boss, a key part of Whelan’s role is to ensure that there are development pathways into the former Clare manager's Waterford senior squad.
“He was very strong to indicate that he wants to help out with the younger lads as well, U20s and even into the Minor squad, maybe take them for an odd session here and there.
“He is really coming down and going to put his best foot forward for Waterford football, for the two years.
“There were a couple of the squad that I had at Waterford U20s that were also part of the senior squad. So they are going to be a year older and a year stronger next year.
“A lot of them are still U20s and they’ll be playing senior again next year, so it is a competitive environment for them.
“Surrounding them with good training and Ephie’s knowledge as well, if he can feed that into our own squad at U20 level, I think it is certainly going to benefit the younger squads as well and the players on that panel.”
As to what Ephie Fitzgerald might potentially be looking to target during his two-year term as Waterford Senior boss, Whelan outlined: “The fact that with the structure of the Championship now, the National Football League really is Waterford’s All-Ireland.
“For a lot of those teams in Division 4, that is your All-Ireland series. Barring a really favourable run in the Munster Championship and maybe avoid Cork or Kerry.
“So the league is really where you need to get going and that is why I think Ephie is keen to get about his business early, as soon as inter-county training is back up and running.
“I am sure he will be looking at his squad and putting them on a winter programme because that is going to come around pretty quickly.
“That mightn’t happen in 2022, but maybe in 2023, I think certainly that has to be the aim, to try and maybe get out of that Division 4.
“I think realistically a lot of teams like Waterford, Carlow and Wexford. They would be close and there would be nothing between the teams.
“I think that is the good thing about the structure of the league, that you are playing teams of a competitive or similar level.
“I think that is how you improve and develop players. So that certainly would be one of his targets.
“I am sure he’ll be drilling that into the players as well. The Munster Championship really depends on the draw. That day of going out and being hammered by Kerry or Cork, I think that is not where players want to be really.
“I think that the league is Waterford’s All-Ireland over the next two years under Ephie’s term.”