Dr Crokes ‘very much on our guard’ for Mullinalaghta
Fionn Fitzgerald insists Longford trailblazers are held in high regard by Kerry giants
Dr Crokes’ Fionn Fitzgerald, left, and Mullinalaghta St Columba’s Shane Mulligan pictured ahead of the AIB All-Ireland club semi-final at Semple Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
AIB All-Ireland Club Football Championship semi-final: Dr Crokes v Mullinalaghta
Throw in: 3.30pm, Sunday. Venue: Semple Stadium. How to follow: The Irish Times liveblog will cover both semi-finals. On TV: TG4.
The last thing Fionn Fitzgerald is falling for now is any more talk of the fairytale of Mullinalaghta, the giant killers from Longford, or the enduring romance and unpredictability of AIB club championship.
All that matters is the game Dr Crokes face on Saturday at Semple Stadium: an All-Ireland football semi-final, the chance to get back to Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day and win back the outright club crown surrendered last year.
Fitzgerald has also been here, done that: watching Mullinalaghta take out Dublin champions Kilmacud Crokes in the Leinster final back in December, the first Longford club to lift that title, having been the first Longford club to make the final, is evidence not so much of where they’ve come from but where they’re going.
“The reality about it is, with Mullinalaghta, there is form line there, if you do your homework,” says Fitzgerald, former Kerry captain. “Because they beat a Dublin club, Kilmacud Crokes, in my opinion the public perceived it as beating Dublin as such.
“The Mullinalaghta story of being from a smaller parish is a big part of it too. But they are a very good team, very well coached and they have been knocking on the door for a few years now and will be around. This is not a fluke or anything. It is serious stuff at this stage. Sometimes you look at the opposition but then you bring it back to yourself. So we are very much on our guard.
“They will be hard enough to break down. They bring a level of intensity and aggression that I haven’t seen from other clubs as much. They are a very united group, and you can see they’re enjoying what they are doing ,and a group like that are always going to be very tough to beat. I don’t think there’s a major secret to what they are doing, the same as ourselves.
“It just shows you, it’s just a testament not to what you have, but to what you do with what you have. That connection they all have together, it’s a strong bond obviously, it shows you don’t always need the biggest pool of players.”
That form, however, has to be carried over the 10-week break, and in that sense the Kerry champions have a definite advantage, having experienced it before; the contrast is similar in the other semi-final, Gaoth Dobhair, only the second Donegal club to take the Ulster title and the first in 43 years, taking on reigning Galway All-Irekand champions Corofin.
The form of Dr Crokes has been ominous: they put 5-20 past St Finbarr’s from Cork, all from play, in their Munster semi-final – booking their 10th provincial final appearance, the seventh of the decade and third in succession, where they comfortably took care of Clare champions Miltown Malbay.
Hard one to manage
“This this will be my fifth (semi-final) to play in,” he says. “I’ve lost three and won one, so it (the gap) is a hard one to manage, so we have done things that we thought would work and didn’t work and vice versa. We haven’t gone down the challenge game route. It’s hard when you don’t have competitive games really, you are trying to relocate as much as you can in training but hopefully the experience we have we can trust the process.
“It’s a unique game, a one-off game and even if you are playing again in a few weeks it’s another one-off game but before Christmas you are playing week in week out, and a bit more like the league in intercounty. Provincial is one thing but the All-Ireland semi-finals, look at the games over the last few years, the records speak for themselves. You just have to bring the form into it.”
The obvious solution to the gap, admits Fitzgerald, is to close the club season into a calendar year: “Logic in any sport is that you normally go with the calendar year, to finish in February is weird. You play week in, week out and then you don’t have a game for 12 weeks. You have to trust what you have done and experience and that but it’s a one-off game, it’s the most unique game you’ll play in Gaelic football or hurling career, there’s nowhere else you’d be waiting three months for a game.
The question of being asked back into the Kerry panel is, for now, happily deflected: “I’m not really sure to be honest. I’m happy as Larry with Crokes... I got married at the end of last year and was on honeymoon in December and then back with Crokes so I’d loads on my hands. Will I miss it, come championship? Of course I will. I’m competitive by nature and loved playing with Kerry but to be honest I was on that journey for a good few years and while I enjoyed it I’m looking forward to other things.”