Fionn Fitzgerald is content to buck the trend of those who wore the captain’s armband before him.
Back in the spring of 2015, Kieran Donaghy lined out for Kerry two weeks after Austin Stacks’ club campaign had drawn to a close.
The Tralee outfit were defeated by Slaughtneil in the All-Ireland semi-final on February 15.
Fast forward to March 1 and with the Dubs visiting Killarney, Donaghy was on the edge of the square for his first game as Kerry captain.
It was the wrong decision, as he’d outline in the opening chapter of his autobiography.
“Declan O’Sullivan told me to take a break after the club All-Ireland semi-final and I didn’t listen to him; I wanted back in right away with Kerry, probably because I was captain, and maybe in the long term it hurt me. 2015 only finished up for me Christmas week when I walked off a pitch above in John Mitchels with the hailstones hitting me on the side of the face and all I could say was ‘Thanks be to Christ this is our last game of the year.’ I can’t look at a field for another six weeks.”
Bryan Sheehan travelled this same path a year later. St Mary’s won the All-Ireland intermediate club championship on February 6 and despite a mammoth run of games with club and division, culminating with St Marys’ success at Croke Park, Sheehan was back in the Kerry team three weeks later for what was his first outing as Kingdom captain.
Any regrets Sheehan might later come to have about rejoining Fitzmaurice’s squad so soon after a lengthy spell of club duty were offset by a finger injury which sidelined him for rounds six and seven of that year’s league.
“While that finger injury was one I didn’t want, it actually worked in my favour because it gave me some time off,” he would later reflect.
Fionn Fitzgerald is no less eager than Sheehan or Donaghy to lead out his Kerry teammates for the first time.
The 27-year old has fulfilled the role of captain on previous occasions, but more so by “default” than anything else.
Killarney is his hometown and yes, it would be special to emerge out from under the tunnel, ball tucked under the arm, for tomorrow’s league opener against Donegal. The body has to be minded, though.
Dr Crokes’ Munster club final defeat to Nemo Rangers on November 26 brought to an end a club campaign which hadn’t paused for breath since early in the spring of 2017. Factor in the juggling of inter-county commitments and Fitzgerald needed a break.
Tomorrow, he won’t figure in the Kingdom’s season opener.
A sports science graduate and now lecturing in the Health and Leisure Department at IT Tralee, he practises what he preaches.
“Basically, I haven’t had a break for two years. I would say five days is all I had off in two years so a rest is good,” he explains.
“I had a bit of a hip issue due to lack of rest so, hopefully, I will be back in for the second or third game. My very first night back training was last Tuesday week.
Being nominated by his own club to take over the armband from fellow Crokes man Johnny Buckley, he says, is “an absolutely incredible honour”.
Mind you, Fitzgerald knows it won’t help him one iota in nailing down a starting berth.
“I don’t think it makes any difference whether you are captain or not. It is a challenge every year to get on the team and this year more than any because it is going to be wide open with so many younger players coming in. I would separate the captaincy from getting your place on the team.
“Kerry and Kilkenny, I think, are the only two counties where the county champions nominate the captain and it is a nice honour.
“I was reading a bit on Dick Fitzgerald in his book going back to the last century and he was Kerry captain because Crokes won the county in 1912, ‘13, and ’14, so it’s part of the tradition of Kerry football. If we changed the method of choosing our captain we would be almost kicking tradition to touch.”
If he wasn’t to preside over a second successive league success, it wouldn’t bother him. The Championship is the sole currency of interest down in the Kingdom. Where the upcoming games are of most importance is affording an opportunity to the minor winners of recent years to find their feet at high altitude. He doesn’t mention David Clifford but one imagines that is who Fionn is referencing when trampling on the suggestion that “our future depends on one or two players”.
“It’s going too far even to suggest that it will depend on a few of the younger lads.”
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