He also affirmed that financial implications were not considered when the decision was made to grant an early release to O’Connell, whose contract was due to run until June 2016.
“It got a lot of coverage and speculation in the media but, as of now, even though Paul has decided where he is relative to Munster, he hasn’t finalised what he’s doing in the future; which I’m sure he’ll do sometime in the next week or two,” said Fitzgerald.
O’Connell, who has represented Munster 178 times in the course of a 14-year career, has been widely-linked with a move to French giants Toulon, and would now be free to do so if he chooses.
Whichever path he follows, O’Connell has stated that he hopes to have some future involvement with Munster and Irish rugby, with Fitzgerald leaving Munster’s door open for such an opportunity.
Fitzgerald added that there are no plans ongoing to search externally for a second-row replacement, a position in which Munster contain plenty of depth.
“At this present moment, we haven’t set about recruiting anyone outside of Ireland. Donnacha Ryan has been missing for so long he’s like a new player back to us this year, and Dave Foley has been out with injury. Donncha O’Callaghan and Billy Holland are there as well, and we have Sean McCarthy and John Madigan in the academy.
“So, while we constantly look at what’s available, there is no announcement or anything to that effect in the pipeline at this point.
“Paul has been a huge bonus for us in Munster; particularly as a person, as an individual, as a leader and, following on, as a rugby player. He’s given everything to Munster so I’m sure it’s now an opportunity for us to thank him but also an opportunity for someone else to step into the breach and step into that leadership role. I’m sure someone will grow into it now that there’s a void there after Paul’s departure.”
O’Connell received additional praise for how he conducted his planned departure: “Paul handled the whole thing very professionally. It wasn’t by any means a priority over the last number of weeks but it was in discussion.”
Fitzgerald was speaking ahead of the Munster Branch AGM, where Munster announced a projected cash-flow deficit of €413,000 for the year ending June 30, 2015.
This is over the budgeted €400,000 deficit predicted this time last year, but a reduction from the previous year’s deficit of €587,000. A projection is yet to be confirmed for the coming year’s budget although the club aims to reach breakeven by the 2016-17 season.
Costs have increased in relation to player contracts, with an increase of €300,000 necessary to follow the going rate on the market.
However financial controller Philip Quinn confirmed that monetary constraints haven’t been a determining factor in player recruitment.
“The whole house of cards falls if you don’t put your money into your players.
“Every year we will look at what we need to put into the player side of things. We will highlight those who are critical to retain, which is the majority of our squad. We will do everything we can to retain them and we have been very successful on that front.
“When we have been out trying to recruit the overseas players it has been tough but it hasn’t been financially that we’ve fallen down at times. We’re always at the mark financially.”