Kieran Fitzgerald: Slogging away with 60 days to go for 60 minutes of football
‘It is crazy and I think it has to change,’ says Corofin veteran of current club calendar
Corofin’s Kieran Fitzgerald is getting ready for his and the club’s sixth semi-final in 11 years – this time against Donegal champions Gaoth Dobhair. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
It has been a feature of the rising level of discontent with the current AIB All-Ireland club championships schedules that players with the most experience of the gruelling calendar arrangements have been to the fore in advocating change.
The latest, Corofin’s Kieran Fitzgerald, has an awful lot of perspective. Now 38 and a veteran of Galway’s last football All-Ireland 18 years ago, he’s getting ready for his and the club’s sixth semi-final in 11 years – this time against Donegal champions Gaoth Dobhair.
He and his team-mates are familiar with the abrupt halt of the competition at the end of the year and its re-emergence the following February. Familiar with the routine that gets a team over the Christmas, Fitzgerald’s response when asked about the challenges reads like an indictment.
“It’s mentally draining, training on poor pitches. Physically you’d be fine but you’re slogging away and there’s 60 days to go for 60 minutes of football. It is crazy and I think it has to change. St Patrick’s Day while it well known for club finals has to change.
“If you had someone from another sporting body and you explained to them that these guys are training for 60, 70 days for one game they’d think it was mad.”
We play Gweedore on Saturday and by then I feel the GAA community has lost interest in the club game and the inter-county season has started
Not only does the hiatus place a strain on the players involved, as they try to negotiate a way through but as Fitzgerald says, it makes no sense from the perspective of the championship itself, which is lifted out of a time of peak interest and dropped in on top of other competitions.
“From a GAA point of view, before Christmas it is all club: county finals and provincial finals dominate what’s happening at the time. Then all of a sudden it just stops and then when it comes back it gets lost.
“We play Gweedore on Saturday and by then I feel the GAA community has lost interest in the club game and the inter-county season has started and there’s huge enthusiasm with new managers and all that and between that and Sigerson it gets lost.
“If it was structured a bit better you could have a club final two weeks before Christmas and I don’t think any club player would have a problem with that – playing under lights in Croke Park. Then the club season is finished and the inter-county season can move on.
“You ask any county manager and club fixtures after Christmas are a pure inconvenience. Mullinalaghta. Crokes and Gweedore all have players with their counties – players the county manager would love to have.”
It also creates additional pressure for the novice contenders. Mullinalaghta, the first Longford club to win Leinster, and Gaoth Dobhair, only the second Donegal club to take the Ulster title and the first in 43 years, have no experience of how best to manage preparations in the 10-week void.
The idea of re-arranging the club championship onto a calendar-year basis has been on the agenda in Croke Park for a while but has also encountered resistance from some counties and provincial councils. The case for change though has become virtually unarguable.
Our game against Gweedore will be hell for leather, no holding back and asking someone to do it again the next day is not good enough
Corofin has also been the epicentre of a rumbling row between the club championship and the third-level colleges’ Sigerson Cup. Last year and this year the club had two players, Kieran Molloy and Liam Silke, playing for NUI Galway and UCD respectively.
Big club matches clash with big Sigerson matches, providing more grist to Fitzgerald’s mill.
“It is farcical. For two years in a row the Sigerson, which is a very prestigious competition, has been denied the two of them. I know Kieran got on for 20 minutes last year but they were due to miss out completely this year. One game has been moved but it means playing twice in two days and you’re talking player welfare. Our game against Gweedore will be hell for leather, no holding back and asking someone to do it again the next day is not good enough.”
He also sympathises with the difficulties facing county players who are expected to slot back into training as soon as the club adventures have concluded.
I’d prefer to see more of the traditional style. I don’t think that sort of game is going to win you an All-Ireland.
Corner back on the last Galway team to win the All-Ireland, all of 18 years ago, he is sceptical about the county’s current dedication to defensive systems under his old team-mate Kevin Walsh.
“I’d prefer to see more of the traditional style. I don’t think that sort of game is going to win you an All-Ireland. It’s funny, the team that has come as close to anyone of winning an All-Ireland in the last four or five years has been Mayo, who have played a conventional style.”
He has no immediate thoughts of retirement although the march of time sometimes hits him, as when he realises that he and one of Saturday’s opponents, Kevin Cassidy were both on the All Stars trip to Los Angeles in 2002.
“It’s a long time ago, nearly 20 years, and I’m sharing a dressing-room now with guys who are just out of minor. It’s hard at times to relate to them but I enjoy it
“You’re talking about mortgages and they’re talking about going out on the town on a Thursday night in Galway so it is completely different. They think I’m nearly part of the management team!”