Ger Fitzgerald is steeped in Midleton history. His illustrious club career saw him rack up four senior county medals, two Munster club titles as well as one All-Ireland club crown. There’s also the small matter of two Celtic Crosses from his days on the inter-county scene.
Now patrolling the sideline as a selector, his enthusiasm hasn’t diminished, and his experience means that he appreciates the nature of the Magpies’ run to the final.
“We’ve had tough games. They’ve been very challenging, and the opponents have each brought a different challenge to us, and to be fair to our lads this year, they’ve applied themselves well in the preparation and they’ve put in tremendous performances.
“I think the tight games have shown the resilience and the strength of character that we knew was in the squad. But they had an opportunity this year, particularly, to display it, and we’re delighted that they’ve taken that opportunity and made the very most of it.
“But in this game, you have to keep working at things and keep believing in yourself and keep applying yourself, keep trying to improve and to be fair, as a management, we’ve tried to instil that, and the lads have responded brilliantly.
“Every day we went out we knew the level of performance they could generate, and it was just really about creating an environment where they could thrive; and they have (thrived), and that’s brilliant.”
Giving players the opportunity to thrive is becoming an increasingly difficult challenge for the GAA in terms of providing regular games. There’s a balance to be struck between training and games, between hurling and life. However, this Midleton group is a grounded one, and it’s clear that Fitzgerald has a deep respect for his players and admires, perhaps even recognises, their desire to play.
“It takes an enormous amount of time, an enormous amount of commitment, a huge application and there are challenges throughout the year. Like when you think that we played Bishopstown in late April and then we didn’t play again ‘til the start of September. That’s a huge, huge gap that fellas have to fill.
“They have to try and manage that time and train through it, without over-training through it and play games and live your life and work and develop a career outside of hurling as well.
“So, there are huge challenges and to play senior club hurling at a successful level you have to be self-motivated.”
Does he see many differences to when he was playing?
“You have to be able to play first of all, you have to have a level of ability but then I think you have to bring self-motivation with that; commitment and energy and fitness, looking after yourself. So those things haven’t changed.
“Strength and conditioning in terms of the science application of it and maybe the analysis, certainly has improved and changed and got more sophisticated. But the basic thing about playing hurling, it’s still a game of hurling and it’s man-on-man and it’s a tough game, and the best team doesn’t always necessarily win.
“But it’s the team that’s more motivated and the team that works together and gets the best out of themselves.
“But really, for us, in terms of this group it’s about facilitating them and getting them to realise their potential and certainly they’ve being doing that over the past couple of games.”
Which brings us nicely to the elephant in the room; Imokilly. Much has been made of the talent at their disposal. Séamus Harnedy and Paudie O’Sullivan up front, Brian Lawton around the middle, Cork U21 Niall O’Leary marshalling the defence, Declan Dalton on the bench and Bill Cooper and Colm Spillane added to a panel that wasn’t lacking in depth.
“The challenge facing Midleton is a formidable one?
“I suppose we’re lucky really, they can only play 15 and that’s fair enough! They have huge resources and they’ve been able to select and de-select players at will through the championship and there’s no club team in the country that could do that, never mind in Cork, so that’s a huge advantage they have.
“But we are a motivated and tight bunch, we’ve put in huge performances throughout the championship and I feel that if we can bring our best performance, like we have been doing throughout the championship, then we won’t be far away.
“I think we’ll give a very good account of ourselves.”