Michael Fitzsimons refuses to dwell on what might have been
Defender not taking anything for granted as Dublin go for sixth straight Leinster title
Dublin defender Michael Fitzsimons at the AIG Heroes event in Blubell Community Centre with pupils from St Ultan’s school in Cherry Orchard. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Most players would still be cursing their fate, demanding to know what might have been. Michael Fitzsimons is somehow polite enough to consider it a small favour.
The dying seconds of the Allianz Football League final, Dublin trailing Kerry by a single point and Fitzsimons is galloping through midfield, certain – if not looking certain – of lining up the equaliser. If not for himself, then surely for someone else.
Only up comes Anthony Maher, dragging him down by the back of his jersey, in the perfect caricature of the cynical foul. Maher is black-carded and up steps Dean Rock for the Dublin free, just outside the 45-metre line: boom, it comes back off the upright, and with that Kerry are league champions – ending Dublin’s quest for five titles in succession and their 36-game unbeaten run.
“I wouldn’t look at any one incident,” says Fitzsimons, reflecting on the moment over four weeks on. “You have to look at our overall performance. If you look back on it, our kicking could have been better.
“My shooting isn’t the best, as you could see from the All-Ireland final [he stalled one shot near the end, though still ended up man of the match], and I didn’t get much chance. The ball had bounced about four yards away from me, and looking back on it, I think I was running into traffic.
“So I don’t think it made much difference. I tried to take it quick. But I don’t think it impacted the game at all. If I had gone on, I might have been caught out of position. And it was a tough kick [for Rock], it didn’t come down to one incident. So he [Maher] might even have done me a favour.”
Politeness aside, Fitzsimons does believe the black card is still a suitable deterrent when it comes to the cynical foul. Dublin manager Jim Gavin recently expressed his preference for the sin-bin-type penalty similar to rugby, although Fitzsimons is not so sure.
“I think the black card is deterrent enough. If someone does a cynical foul in the last play of a game it is going to be the same. I think the black card has been effective. The sin bin might be more of a penalty, but the way it is, it stops you making fouls.
“The black card plays on players’ minds. They are not going to be pulling people down. Obviously it takes a while for players to get used to and everyone to get used to it, but I would definitely think twice about pulling someone down.”
Speaking in the bright sunshine at the Bluebell Community Centre in Dublin at the launch of the AIG Heroes initiative, which has star players such as himself passing on some advice and skills to children, Fitzsimons also recalls his early days as a dual player with Cuala, who in March became the first Dublin club to win an All-Ireland hurling title.
“It was a fairytale for the lads, lads that I grew up playing with. That’s why you play club hurling or football, to get to an All-Ireland and get to that top stage, it was incredible. I played up to 21, and if I had been better at hurling it might have been different.”
Not that he has any regrets about opting for football. In discussing Dublin’s apparently inevitable sixth successive Leinster title, he says, “We don’t take anything for granted”, which may not be the throwaway remark that it might sound.
In 2010, Fitzsimons was on the Dublin team looking to win a fifth title in succession, only to be stunned by Meath in the semi-final, 5-9 to 0-13. A year later he was first-choice corner back in their All-Ireland-winning team, starting that final against Kerry (the first Cuala player to start an All-Ireland for Dublin since the late Mick Holden in 1983).
By 2012 he had lost his place, initially through injury, and then when Jim Gavin took over from Pat Gilroy he needed to earn his place all over again, and didn’t feature at all in the 2013 All-Ireland win.
Clearly this is a player who takes nothing for granted: “A lot of lads are taking great satisfaction out of a team performance, whether it’s five, 10 minutes. That can be as sweet as a full game.
“I know last year I only played five minutes against Kerry but really enjoyed my part in that. And the same with Mayo 2015. I didn’t start that game either, and they were some of the best games I played.”