Saturday 10 December 2016

Fitzgerald needs to keep focus on pitch

Published 30/04/2011 | 05:00

Today at the Aviva Stadium, Luke Fitzgerald will face a difficult task. In a period of poor form, he will be faced by Vincent Clerc, one of the great finishers in world rugby.

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At his best it would be a big ask for the Leinster wing -- in his current form you fear for his survival.

There are positives for Fitzgerald, as his game has not gone completely to pot -- he just cannot catch or hold on to the ball with any certainty. His defence remains sure, his lines of running sublime and his footballing instincts as good as ever.

Just how has the player touted as the next Brian O'Driscoll since his schooldays at Blackrock College descended to the point that if today's side were picked on form he would be an unlikely starter?

The secret may lie off the pitch -- I suspect that it is an inability to cope with the many inevitable distractions that come with fame. There are precedents for this kind of dip in form amongst his team-mates at Leinster and Ireland.

For a period in his career, O'Driscoll lost his way, where it appeared his head was distracted by the lure of the social scene, the pictures in glossy magazines and the trappings of fame.

Then, as now, he was the finest player in Ireland, but he never looked it.

The tinted hairstyles and the wispy beards seemed motivated by a desire to be an Irish Beckham.

His inexperience led him to be used on the failed Lions tour that he led in 2005. Clive Woodward and his spin doctor Alistair Campbell deflected criticism of their failings by focusing the media's attention on the injury to their captain.

A smarter captain with better advice might have gone home after the injury had cut short his involvement.

There is no doubt that the New Zealand tour cost him the Lions captaincy in South Africa two years ago.

It was inconceivable that his Irish deputy Paul O'Connell should have been appointed but coach Ian McGeechan, an assistant on the last tour, may have had reservations about the strength of character of the Ireland captain.

The player gave his response on the field by delivering a masterclass in centre play, bringing the best out of his partner. More importantly, he risked life and limb in the team's cause.

He proved that he was the greatest rugby player ever produced by this island and possibly the world. And he looked like a warrior. Somewhere in his life you felt he had discovered a rock of sense to show him the way.

Rob Kearney returned from that same tour as the heir apparent to the crown of the finest full-back in the world. Sadly he did not kick on from there and today, even allowing for injury, he would not be in many people's World XV.

It is moot whether if fit today, he would replace Isa Nacewa in the Leinster side.

What happened to the young man? There is a sense that he too has had his focus shifted from the pitch. Similarly his colleague Jamie Heaslip has slipped down the world rankings.

The problem with soccer players is that they are paid enormous sums of money at an early age and possess little or no education. The rugby player has all the financial advantages but happily is better educated.

The problem however is that they are social icons, sought after by the opposite sex, and fawned upon by camp followers. It is a heavy burden to carry for a young man in the prime of his life. Focus in those circumstances is difficult.

It is interesting that all the players mentioned have really strong family support and a parental involvement in their careers. Are yet additional supports required?

At the height of his powers, legendary out-half Ollie Campbell still phoned a Jesuit priest in America for help in tough times.

wrong

Luke Fitzgerald has given too many hostages to fortune. He was wrong to suggest that he should be picked at full-back. He is too young to be writing newspaper columns from inside the camp.

He should express more contrition when making errors on the field. The great golfers can put a bad hole behind them, but this young man appears to be unaware that a nation groans when he drops a high ball or misses a pass.

The players are unlikely to take advice from this column, but they might consider closing their Twitter accounts, adopting a low profile and reading Kipling's view on triumph and disaster.

Getting back to basics means more than learning to pass and kick. Fame is fleeting. They have a short window of opportunity to achieve a place in history and copper-fasten their financial future.

Over the Easter weekend I was reminded that the people laid palms before Jesus and shouted, "Hosanna, Hosanna." Five days later they cried "Crucify him, crucify him."

Irish Independent

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