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Leinster star Luke Fitzgerald back from the brink

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26 December 2014; Luke Fitzgerald, Leinster, is tackled by CJ Stander, Munster. Guinness PRO12, Round 11, Munster v Leinster, Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

26 December 2014; Luke Fitzgerald, Leinster, is tackled by CJ Stander, Munster. Guinness PRO12, Round 11, Munster v Leinster, Thomond Park, Limerick. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

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Was there ever a time when you thought you would not make it back?

"There absolutely was, yeah," said Luke Fitzgerald.

The 2009 British & Irish Lion should be at the peak of his powers at 27.

Instead, he is making his umpteenth return from what turned into a career-threatening hip/groin injury.

"It's been a rough journey," he conceded.

"I think what was great was the support in here (Leinster) never wavered.

"Guys were very patient in here with me because there was definitely times when I lost hope," he admitted.

"I just thought I am doing three months of rehab here and I'm getting nowhere. I'm in a worse position than when I actually started."

The support from coach Matt O'Connor has been constant. He kept the faith when Fitzgerald had run out of it.

"There was a time I just said: 'listen, I can't come back in here. I'm banging my head against the wall and I'm going nowhere.'"

It came to a point where Fitzgerald had to push through into the unknown against Castres Olympique in Europe and Edinburgh in the PRO12 when Leinster's injury list rivalled that of your local hospital in late October.

"We were so short of numbers I think Matty's hands were really tied in terms of having to play the two 80 minutes which wouldn't have been ideal," he said.

"Then, I went into Irish camp and I had a slip, set me back another few weeks."

He rebounded five weeks later for the back-to-backs against Harlequins in The Champions Cup and the Interpros against Connacht and Munster.

The remarkable fact about Fitzgerald's season is that he has played just six matches, all for 80 minutes.

He is looking sharper with every game, perhaps trying to do too much against Munster, letting the adrenalin make decisions reserved for the systems he operates inside.

There is also the question around where to best use the unique skills of a full-firing Fitzgerald.

He has never shied away from being the next man up after Brian O'Driscoll at thirteen.

"I definitely feel like I am in a better place to play better there and be more creative which is the side of the game I'm looking to develop," he said.

"I feel like physically that's an area where it suits me in there. I like the contact. I like tackling.

"I feel defensively I'm a strong player and I feel carrying the ball is a good part of my game.

"Going forward, it is great for me to play in that slot."

The understandable energy and enthusiasm of Fitzgerald runs contrary to the negativity currently surrounding Leinster.

It is because he still believes in his coach, even comparing O'Connor to Michael Cheika and Joe Schmidt.

"I'm pretty sure everyone will agree in Checks - he has done it pretty much everywhere he has gone - and then Joe - he has been fantastic, we all know that - I just think he (O'Connor) is a class act," he said.

"He has been very unlucky. You look at (Isa) Nacewa gone, Leo Cullen gone, Drico, Johnny Sexton, mainstays, no Sean O'Brien, no Cian Healy.

"He won the league last year and lost to Toulon (in Europe). I think the facts would back it up," he stated.

"I know we're not performing very well at the moment.

"My own feeling is that he is really knowledgeable, a really, really good coach, very organised and I'm always very impressed with him.

"I thought I played my best rugby under him last season."

And what about this season and those to come?

"I feel like I'm in a position where there is a huge space for me to improve and I'm still playing decent enough.

"There is a good opportunity to reach that level, that place where every sportsman wants to get to, where you are performing to your potential."


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