Shane Daly primed for derby date with pal Conor Fitzgerald

Shane Daly knows the damage that his good friend Conor Fitzgerald can inflict on teams — he has never forgiven him for landing a near-impossible penalty to break their hearts in a Munster Schools Senior Cup semi-final.

Shane Daly primed for derby date with pal Conor Fitzgerald

Shane Daly knows the damage that his good friend Conor Fitzgerald can inflict on teams — he has never forgiven him for landing a near-impossible penalty to break their hearts in a Munster Schools Senior Cup semi-final.

That was four a half years ago, when Fitzgerald somehow steered a stunning effort from distance between the posts to snatch victory for Ardscoil Rís against Pres in Musgrave Park.

“It was a last-play kick and he kicked one from about 55 metres against the wind. It was one of the most bizarre things ever, and it crawled over the crossbar. He broke my heart there, so I’ve never let him live that one down. Any kick he ever missed in training I’d be saying to him: ‘Why didn’t you do that a few years ago!’, but it’s great to see the way he has progressed.”

The pair of them made it into the Munster academy but Fitzgerald was released a year and a half ago and, with his career at a crossroads, the former Limerick minor hurler got a chance with Connacht and hasn’t looked back.

It remains to be seen if Fitzgerald starts against his native province tomorrow or if Andy Friend gives Jack Carty the nod to start, but Daly knows only too well the threat posed by the 22-year-old.

Daly, who now has a dozen Munster appearances under his belt, said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Fitzgerald push himself into contenton for a call from Andy Farrell.

“Conor would be a very close friend of mine. I’d have only been a year ahead of him in the academy, so we would always have been training together and it’s great to see him do so well. Obviously, you’d wish it was it in a Munster jersey! But he bounced back from that (being released) and those stories are great to hear.

Conor Fitzgerald. Picture: Sportsfile
Conor Fitzgerald. Picture: Sportsfile

“It was quite disappointing for him and probably a bit of a shock for him at the time. But I’m delighted with what he has gone on to achieve. It’s impressive.”

Understandably, there has been a bit of radio silence between the friends this week as they prepare for tomorrow’s clash at the Sportsground, but Daly feels Fitzgerald can push on from here. Daly is making progress in his own battle for game-time.

He has already matched the six appearances he made in his breakthrough season last year and while he has yet to make a Heineken Champions Cup debut, he has travelled as the 24th man for each of the four games this term.

Daly, who celebrated his 23rd birthday yesterday, knows he’s not far off that breakthrough and tomorrow returns to the Sportsground where he ran in a brace of tries in a pre-season clash a few months ago.

Whenever the time comes, I know I will be ready myself. It was good to be involved, even if it’s just been on the sideline for those European games.

“You feel the buzz,” said the former Irish U20 and sevens player.

“That’s probably something you don’t get in the PRO14 games, it’s a completely different vibe around the games and I think that was something quite different for me.

“I will just have to take the opportunity over the next few weeks. I want to put my hand up in those games, but you have to put yourself in the best possible position and that’s what I hope to do in the next few weeks.”

He loves to saturate information and try to keep improving all the time, so the arrival of Wallaby legend Stephen Larkham in the summer has been manna from heaven for a back like him.

“Working with Stephen has been unreal. He’s given us a completely different direction in attack this year and you can see it from our games.

“There is a lot more structure in place and lads probably know their detail a little bit better than they did previously and it’s working well for us, you can see from the number of first-phase tries.

“So, it’s been really enjoyable, especially as an outside back and all these moves he’s coming up with are really exciting. You’re looking forward to doing it in every game.”

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