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Luke looks on from sidelines

They say that it takes hardship in life to quantify success and through desolation true enlightenment is earned.

Talk to Luke Fitzgerald about fate and his faith shines through.

Weeks like this are what sportsmen and sportswomen live for. In the corresponding fixture last year, he collected a man of the match honour after scoring a brace of tries in Ireland's 38-9 victory in the Stadio Flaminio.

Little did he know that over the next calendar year, the twin impostors, triumph and despair, would both visit at his door. Such is the cycle of life.

A Grand Slam, Heineken Cup winner's medal and selection for the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa would follow, but, as the winter clouds descended, a knee ligament injury struck and in one freak occurrence his season was all but over.



challenging

Two and a half months down the line and a sense of perspective has enabled him to look at the positives and move on. The initial days and weeks were challenging, he admits, but the road ahead is paved with brightness.

"In the first few weeks I couldn't walk or drive, but over the last few weeks I'm getting a bit more normality back and I'm enjoying the simple things", the 22-year-old reflected on the eve of the Six Nations opener.

"It's great to be back in, more or less, full-time training in Riverview with the medical staff with Leinster and Ireland, and it definitely raises your spirits to be working in and around your team-mates.

"I'm very fortunate to have two high quality set-ups looking after my best interests, and Ray Moran in the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry has also been a big help."

On top of pursuing a supplementary third level course, time spent off his feet has enabled him to reassess and set new goals.

"Learning the guitar is something that I had already started before November, but I'm really enjoying it and learning some old Oasis and The Verve songs. So that's keeping me occupied," he revealed.

"I don't know if I'm in the same league as Nathan (Hines), or whether we'll be teaming up any time soon because he's very good himself, but you never know! It's a good way to spend a few hours each week.

"I generally like to keep busy, irrespective of the injury, so I'm in the process of finishing a business studies course from the Open University as well catching up with friends and going to the cinema.

"Between time spent in the physio room, my weekly schedule's fairly full because, at the moment, I'm in for around five days a week."

Of course it's only natural that over the next few weeks he'll harbour some regrets, but when Brian O'Driscoll leads his team out on to the Croke Park surface, Fitzgerald will look with pride on his team-mates and assume the role of supporter rather than lead performer.

"It's tough not being involved in the Six Nations", he admits, "and missing out on Leinster's games in the Magners League and the Heineken Cup qualification.

"So on one hand you're naturally a little bit envious because you want to play. But I'm immensely proud of what has been achieved and positive about the rest of the season on all fronts.

"If you take Leinster and Munster aside, who have both done extremely well to qualify among the top seeds for the Heineken Cup, Connacht are flying in the Amlin Challenge Cup and Ulster just missed out on also qualifying out of their pool.

"So, hopefully we can take the confidence from the provinces into the national set-up and work hard on getting some good results over the next few weeks."

Can Ireland repeat last season's outstanding successes? "It'll be tough. It's always a massive challenge to emulate any success because when you go into any competition as the reigning champions teams want to beat you.



improving

"We have two huge games away from home this year against England and France, and all of the nations are improving. The Italians will bring a hugely physical game to Croke Park and it will definitely battle-harden the players.

"There are always nerves at the start of any competition, but I'm sure the guys are all really excited about playing for Ireland. With the strength of character that's there already, I'm sure there's a really positive mood in the camp and hopefully that will transfer into some good results.

"The squad is in a rich vein of form and I'll look forward to watching the games. It'll be different watching from the outside looking in, but, as an Ireland supporter, I hope the lads do the business and they'll definitely be giving it their best shot."


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