Right, Fionn Fitzgerald. The dust has long since carpeted the floor
It’s six years on, you’re out of the inter-county game now two and a half years. You’ve been taken back to Fitzgerald Stadium that July 5 afternoon so many times now that you can feel the grooves of the leather as Donnchadh Walsh feeds you the ball. Out of the corner of your eye, you can still see Brian O’Driscoll preparing to lunge to deny your kick to square the Munster final with all but the last kick of the game at the Upper Lewis Road end.
But settle it now, once and for all — did you mean it?
“I dummied this one for years! I get asked about it an awful lot by Kerry and Cork people when in company. I still get slagged about it a lot, especially at club level — if a bad kick goes in by anyone, that I had something to do with it.
“People ask me did I mean it and I’ve said yes and no. I actually did mean it but I’m not sure if it was going to come off. It was one of those situations where you’re chasing a score, the chances of getting a good opportunity are very slim so you’re waiting. The middle is blocked, they’re looking to turn you over. Donnchadh Walsh popped the ball out to me.
“When it did, I had to have a go. It wasn’t the most stylish of kicks, I have to admit that, but funnily enough that’s the way I kick at times — put the head up and it doesn’t come off as it should. A bit like golf when you lift your head up too quickly. It went over but I’m not sure if it made much of a difference because I was dropped two weeks later.”
The last line is delivered with a laugh. Not that Fitzgerald ever took his football lightly but he has been able to put it in context.
When Peter Keane felt he was surplus to requirements ahead of the 2019 season, there were no recriminations.
“I made peace with it,” he recalls. “I wasn’t in a good place football-wise.”
Being able to park it as quickly as he did wouldn’t come easy to most but Fitzgerald was aware of what he was missing out on. Before his final season with Kerry in 2018, he recalled having five days off in the previous two years between the county and Dr Crokes.
“There are parts of it I miss but overall I’m very settled in relation to it,” he says.
“I probably would have been a bit disappointed with the last couple of seasons personally. I didn’t reach the standards I would have liked. As well, we weren’t as successful with Kerry. We were doing OK in Munster but weren’t pushing on in the All-Ireland stages.”
That extended period of frustration for Kerry was felt keenly in Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s last two seasons in charge in 2017 and ‘18.
Fitzgerald wasn’t subjected to the same vitriol aimed as his team-mates but there was criticism. “In the earlier days, I remember I used to find it quite full-on but it’s just part and parcel of playing with Kerry. Of course, I got stick from supporters and former players but by and large it didn’t really make a huge difference to me. I didn’t get anything to the level of that.
“I’m not saying it’s right but when you’re putting yourself out there it’s almost par for the course. Maybe more is made about the likes of social media now but you can get sucked into that stuff if you want to.”
A lecturer in the Department of Health and Science in Munster Technological University in Tralee, Fitzgerald has started a PhD study in growth and maturation in Gaelic football at UL. Six years ago, he produced a study on relative age effect in Gaelic games as part of his masters degree in sports performance. He hasn’t gone cold turkey.
“It’s not as if I’m an accountant and can completely switch off from the sport or football. I like being in and around the sporting environment but at the same time the inter-county thing is very full-on and very time-consuming so I have got to enjoy my social life and just doing things that I wouldn’t have been able to do before.”
Having a club like Crokes to return to make the transition so much easier. “I was very grateful and lucky that I had a good club to come back into and I appreciate that now more so than ever. I really enjoy playing club football at the moment and I probably found my love of the game again doing it.”