Tuesday 17 July 2018

'Football has changed since 2011' - Past clashes with Donegal have helped shape Mick Fitzsimons' career

Dublin’s Mick Fitzsimons with the Sam Maguire Cup at Dún Aengus on the Aran Islands, where the launch of the All-Ireland SFC series took place yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Mick Fitzsimons with the Sam Maguire Cup at Dún Aengus on the Aran Islands, where the launch of the All-Ireland SFC series took place yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Mick Fitzsimons can look back on it with some clarity but if he hadn't got that break to start the 2016 All-Ireland football final replay against Mayo, he wonders now where his Dublin career might be.

Fitzsimons hadn't started a championship game for two seasons prior to that. By his own admission that would have left him "worried" going into 2017.

But his replay recall has steered his career in a different direction, helping him to develop into one of the champions' most consistent defenders again.

"It definitely gave me a huge amount of confidence, that the management would back me to come into replay, which is a big decision. It definitely put me in good stead going into 2017.

"I was starting in 2014. In 2015, I came on as a sub in every game and I sort of felt I made a big impact," he recalls.

"But then in 2016, I think I might have come on only as a blood sub against Donegal and then against Kerry in the semi-final, I probably only came on for five minutes.

"So my contribution was probably a bit less. It would have made me have to… I would have been worried going into 2017 if I hadn't played in that replay whether I could get a place back in the starting team. Two years in a row not starting is tough. But I always had confidence in my ability.

Disillusioned

"Each situation is different. I would always feel that if you're getting a fair chance and it's a touch-and-go decision, you can't be too disillusioned. I'm in a position where I've been in both positions. I've been struggling to make panels and I've started big games. So I think if I wasn't starting games, I'd still try and push on if I felt I was contributing positively. If I was being negative or taking away from the team, I'd definitely step away."

Dublin meet Donegal in the second of the weekend's All-Ireland quarter-final, opponents that have proved quite a fork in the road for the decade's most dominant team.

Fitzsimons featured in both 2011 and 2014 All-Ireland semi-finals that were so memorable for different reasons.

He recalls the 2011 game as "quite surreal," adding "it was unique. We had heard whispers that they were going to be very defensive. They weren't quite as defensive in their earlier games leading up to it. But they went ultra-defensive against us.

"I was up top against (Colm) McFadden. It was sort of unheard of back then. But fair play to them. It was unique. They went after something and it was really close."

The 2014 defeat brought a lot of "soul-searching," he reflects. "People had to figure out where they went wrong individually, where we went wrong as a team, at what stages we could have addressed it and what we needed to bring into next year.

"2015 was a great year then. We addressed the flaws in our game and we got the result at the end of it. But it was a tough end to the summer.

"Football has changed a bit since then. And we've probably changed a bit since then. You'd always be wary of stuff like that, of the impact of long kick-outs, of leaving space in certain areas."

Fitzsimons steered clear of the venue debate triggered by Donegal in recent weeks but is looking forward to getting on the road again with a trip to Omagh to play Tyrone on the weekend after next.

"It just sounds like it's shaping the question for me to say, 'Michael Fitzsimons would have no problem with the game'," he says in response to whether he deems it an advantage to Dublin to have two of their next three games in Croke Park.

"I have no influence in this. And I know it's a sensitive subject so I don't want to be speaking about it. It's a build-up to the game.

"But from my point of view, I don't pay attention to it. That's Donegal's corner to fight, as Kildare did.

"Nowlan Park was great," he says, recalling Dublin's first championship game outside Croke Park for 10 years in 2016. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime (opportunity) because Dublin don't get much of a chance to play in Nowlan Park unless you're playing hurling. It's just a great stadium. It's great to play somewhere you've seen on TV. And the same with Omagh. Going away there in the league, those northern stadiums and those northern teams, there's always a great atmosphere. We're happy. I think the last time, in Laois, we unearthed an Eoghan O'Gara chant that we were all singing on the way home.

"They were singing it down there when he came on. Stuff like that. They're just small things but it's good craic with fans travelling."

 

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