Tuesday 17 July 2018

Fitzsimons thankful for his second coming ahead of another Tyrone test

Fitzsimons: Looking forward. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Fitzsimons: Looking forward. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Football has rarely been straightforward for Mick Fitzsimons.

He's in the Dublin team now, seemingly a sure-fire starter under Jim Gavin for the first time. In that way, things have come full circle for him.

On their way to their breakthrough 2011 All-Ireland title, Fitzsimons was one of Pat Gilroy's most trusted performers.

Game after game, Gilroy would detail him to pick up the opposition's most dangerous forwards. Game after game, he would deliver, rewarding the faith Gilroy had shown in him since plucking him from relative obscurity. Not bad for a player who started his minor career on the Cuala 'B' team.

He hasn't always made Gavin's team but he's back in the side now, perhaps as part of a reward for his brilliant performance when brought into the team for last year's All-Ireland final replay.

Whatever the reason, Fitzsimons isn't for looking back.

"I think I had a good run of games in the league, which is always good because it helps you coming into championship. I probably learned a few things during the league and I've been able to add them to my game a bit.

"It's hard to tell. I always think I should be starting. Like anyone on the team thinks they should be starting."

Tyrone in the championship brings him back close to where it all began. He can still recall his first time the played the Red Hand in the championship. It was Fitzsimons' debut season, 2010, and the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Read more: Donnelly primed to lift Red Hands to the next level

Back then the landscape was very different for Dublin football. Summers followed a familiar pattern of burgeoning hope before a crushing defeat. Twelve months earlier, a Kerry team, seemingly limping along through the back door, had blown them out of the water at the last-eight stage on the way to an All-Ireland title.

This time, Tyrone stood in their way. Dublin's mental toughness was regularly questioned but they won the game in what was a landmark result in terms of their development but Fitzsimons' memoires of that day amount to chasing a particularly hot Owen Mulligan.

By the time they met them again in 2011, Dublin were ready to go all the way.

"I think we'd beaten them in 2010 but we really put a big emphasis on doing it again, to get a bit of consistency," Fitzsimons says of the 2011 clash. "It was a massive game. It was one of those games we were happy we got a good performance for the majority of the game.

"It was huge because we respected that team massively and we'd seen what they done in 2003, 2005 and 2008 and we knew they could do it again if we weren't on top of our game.

"I'd had a tough time in 2010 on Mulligan. So I'd done a good bit of work to get tighter and to get used to his movement. He was very nimble and very accurate. I just remember from the start that we had a lot of turnovers against them, were solid in defence and when we went forward I think everything was going over. Back then the games weren't as high-scoring but we hit 19 or 20 points and lads seemed to be on form."

The roles are reversed this time. Tyrone are the team with it all to prove.

Dublin are the side jangling with All-Ireland medals. He'll put that to the back of his mind. There's been too many swings and roundabouts in his career to do anything else.

"Last time I saw Tyrone, we were playing them in the league and they looked good then."

Irish Independent

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