Sharp-shooter Fitzgerald eyes final glory

THESE are busy times for hotelier Conor Fitzgerald, the last few weeks in the run-up to Christmas, office parties by the dozen to be arranged in the two Fitzgerald family hotels, one in his native Adare – the Woodlands – the other in Cork, the Vienna Woods Hotel in Glanmire.

There’s one party especially, however, that Fitzgerald would dearly love to be organising over the next few weeks — a celebration of Adare’s first ever Munster senior hurling title. Not just for the business it would undoubtedly bring in, no it’s more important than that. Fitzgerald, you see, is one of the stars of this Adare side, it’s score-getter in chief, lethal from placed balls anywhere inside the opposition half. Sometimes he operates on the wing, sometimes – as in the semi-final win over Toomevara – in the middle of the field, but always, when the whistle sounds and a free is awarded inside scoring range, Fitzgerald is the man. Thus it will be this Sunday, in Thurles, against De La Salle of Waterford, thus it is that in spite of the hectic work schedule, Fitzgerald has no complaints.

“Busy times alright, trying to get everything organised for the Christmas, and I’m up and down from Cork as well, I spend a lot of my days up there, in the Vienna Woods. I’m lucky though, I have an understanding employer!”

Ah yes, good to be the boss, eh Fitzgerald? “Well, I’m lucky enough that I can make those calls myself, but it is tough, a busy time of the year. But it’s a good complaint to have, isn’t it?”

There’s a few who wouldn’t mind having it, right enough, not least in Toomevara of Tipperary and Sarsfields of Glanmire, each of whom was expected to triumph in the two Munster semi-finals, both of whom fell.

Surprised a few people, did those two results, including people in the winning clubs. “For sure, Toomevara and Sarsfields were probably the two teams most people would have picked out to go through, outsiders especially,’’ Fitzgerald reflects. “I’m sure though that De La Salle were thinking like we were thinking, that if we got it right on the day we’d give it a serious rattle. We did, and it worked out.”

Of the two results, however, Adare’s win was probably the least surprising; the Limerick champions had been there three times already in the previous six years, and even if they were beaten first time out every time, they still accounted well for themselves.

On this occasion they had had time to prepare, were much more focused on doing well in Munster. De La Salle, on the other hand, hadn’t won in Waterford since 1914, had only a week to digest their county final win, get their celebrations over and done with.

Perhaps, says Fitzgerald, but only perhaps.

“Everyone was going on about Toomevara, their 11 championships in the last 16 years in Tipperary, steeped in tradition and all that, so we weren’t being given much chance in that one.

“De La Salle surprised a lot of people, but when you look through their team, they have a lot of very strong players, down the middle especially, the likes of Brian Phelan, Kevin Moran, John Mullane, really good players, and a lot of other lads doing the business for them as well.’’

Indeed we could witness a possible Limerick double this year, Drom-Broadford up against Clare champions Kilmurry-Ibrickane in another unlikely pairing in the football final. “Oh now, it’s still a long way off,” he laughs, “We’re going to have our work cut out for us on Sunday. You have toadmire De La Salle for what they’ve achieved so far this year, but I’d say we have a lot in common, as players anyway, we’re very similar in that this is going to be a new experience for all of us – you just hope you get it right on the day.

“Thurles is a big pitch, and Páirc Uí Chaoimh seemed to really suit De La Salle the last day, so it looks like our defence is going to be well tested again; even against Toomevara we were put to the pin of our collar, but our defence really put their bodies on the line, every one of them, really put on the pressure. We’re going to need that again the next day.”

That, and someone at the other end to put the ball between the sticks at every possible opportunity. So far, Conor Fitz has been that man, for Adare. Could be that he’ll have that party yet, but – as he said – he will most certainly have to earn it.

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