JACK FITZGERALD, who died last Sunday, was the Golden Boy of Waterford soccer during the Fifties. Jack was one of six brothers who played in the League of Ireland for the Blues - Denny, Tom, Ned, Peter and Paul were the others. Their father, Michael, was a native of Durrow and a hurler, only becoming involved with soccer through his sons. However, he subsequently was elected
JACK FITZGERALD, who died last Sunday, was the Golden Boy of Waterford soccer during the Fifties. Jack was one of six brothers who played in the League of Ireland for the Blues - Denny, Tom, Ned, Peter and Paul were the others. Their father, Michael, was a native of Durrow and a hurler, only becoming involved with soccer through his sons. However, he subsequently was elected chairman of Waterford and became an international selector in the early '60s.
Jack started his career as a wing-half and helped Waterford Bohemians win the FAI Youth Cup in 1947. After making his debut in the League of Ireland in the 1949-50 season, Jack spent the following season working in England. When he returned for the 1951-2 season, player-manager Jimmy Nelson switched him to centre-forward during an injury crisis. Jack responded with a couple of goals and his career took off from there.
Blessed with good pace, once in the penalty area he could finish to the net equally well with either his head or his foot. His tall, blond figure bursting through defences was a thrilling sight and if he lacked a little ball control he more than made up for it with his willingness to chase everything, making life difficult for his markers.
He won amateur caps, full international caps and inter-League honours, but fitting football in with his work as a milk delivery man wasn't easy. Yet, when he got the chance to move to England, he turned it down. First in with an offer was Matt Busby. The fee was £8,000 but an inopportune cartilage operation put an end to that.
Jack's partnership with the ill-starred Scot Jimmy Gauld, who was later to be jailed for the 1964 match-fixing scandal in England, caught the public's imagination and set attendance records around the country. This brought Jack back into the limelight in the 1954-5 season and he scored the winning goal against Holland in Dalymount Park, which seemed to presage a lengthy international career. However, he then broke his ankle playing against the Hessen League in Germany. That didn't stop Sunderland pursuing him, the chairman even visiting him in hospital seeking his signature and inviting Jack and his wife over to do some house-hunting. Jack declined, citing as his excuse that he was a bad traveller.
A hat-trick in the return game against the Hessen League in Dalymount earned him a recall to the international team. Holland were the opposition again and Jack contributed handsomely to a famous 4-1 win in Rotterdam. Such was the Dutch dismay at this football lesson from the Irish that they switched from amateur to professional football as a result.
Despite being such crowd-pleasers, that Waterford team just missed out on the honours, twice being pipped for the League title and losing the 1959 FAI Cup final to St Patrick's Athletic after a replay. By 1964 the tide had turned and they had to apply for re-election. At the end of that season a note was pushed under Jack's front door telling him he was being released. After 16 years with Waterford, that was the only sour note - the fact that none of the directors had the courtesy to call on him and tell him personally that he was surplus to requirements.
He signed for Cork Hibernians and enjoyed one good season, finishing top scorer, before work commitments forced him to quit. His tally of 130 League goals places him just outside the all-time top 10 goalscorers.
He is survived by his wife Annette, sons Michael, Peter and Mark, and daughter Elaine.
Jack Fitzgerald, born in Waterford, April 3, 1930; died November 23, 2003.