Two great runs separated by 18 years bookend the marvellous career of Kieran Fitzgerald, who retired last week. The first comes in the 2001 All-Ireland semi-final between Derry and Galway. The Tribesmen are a point down with five minutes left when they win the ball deep in their own half. Declan Meehan is in possession near the halfway line when Fitzgerald hares up the pitch on his inside and demands the ball.
He is a corner-back, an under 21 player in his first championship season yet the kid wants to take responsibility at this most crucial point. Fitzgerald powers over the halfway line and finds Derek Savage who finds Matthew Clancy who scores the goal which wins the game. When Galway win the final, that pivotal moment sticks in the mind. It's extraordinary to see someone that age making such a run.
In the 2019 Connacht club semi-final, Corofin are playing Ballintubber when midway through the second half Fitzgerald decides it's time for another forward foray. You'd imagine that at the age of 38 he might prefer to save his energy, especially as he's tasked with marking the Mayo champions' danger-man Cillian O'Connor.
Not a bit of it. Fitzgerald powers down the wing, leaves a flailing O'Connor on the deck and gives the Corofin fans and team a massive lift at a crucial stage. It's extraordinary to see someone that age making such a run. The hair may have turned from flaming red to a more autumnal shade, but the hunger for responsibility and hard work is still the same.
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The big man began as a prodigy and ended as an elder statesman. He was just 20 when he won an All Star as part of Galway's brilliant 2001 All-Ireland winning team and looked destined for one of the great inter-county careers.
Football's future looked Galway-shaped. Pádraic Joyce and Michael Donnellan were just 24, Derek Savage was 23, Declan Meehan was 25, Matthew Clancy 19, Joe Bergin and Fitzgerald 20. No one would have believed that this team would never even reach an All-Ireland semi-final again.
But that was what happened and Fitzgerald, though he played some fine football in the fallow years of the following decade, became a player with a great future behind him. Corofin were dominating Galway's club championship but an extra-time defeat by St Gall's in the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final followed by single-point losses in the 2011 and 2013 Connacht final and semi-final suggested their big Croke Park day might never come.
When they did make the breakthrough in the 2015 final against Slaughtneil it was tempting to regard this as a fitting finale for the great club servant at full-back who'd turned 34 in January. Yet this was merely a taster for what was to come.
In the past three years Corofin have proven themselves to be the greatest club team in history by winning an unprecedented hat-trick of titles. No one was more influential in that run than Fitzgerald. When a player is still contributing in his late 30s, we tend to stress the value of their experience and leadership and gloss over the fact that their legs don't move so fast anymore.
But there was never a need to make any allowance for the years with Fitzgerald. His marking job against O'Connor in that Connacht semi-final as he held one of the most dangerous forwards in the game scoreless would have done much younger defenders proud. Corofin's attacking style is the team's defining feature, with players steaming forward from all parts of the field. But their freedom to do this rested to an extent on the rock-solid nature of Fitzgerald on the edge of the square. The old guy's ability to mind himself meant his fellow defenders could venture forward with impunity.
Fitzgerald was the perfect embodiment of the Corofin spirit. Great defender though he was, the number three was first and foremost a footballer rather than a stopper. Many of Corofin's flowing Total Football moves began with a well-judged pass from the man who ended his career with four All-Ireland, seven Connacht and 14 Galway senior medals. He was the most intelligent of players on the most intelligent of teams.
Few players have deserved a rest more than Fitzgerald. But we haven't seen the last of his contributions to the Corofin cause. Announcing his retirement he added, "The GAA is my identity and it's embedded in my DNA. I look forward to repaying the faith that Corofin GAA club have invested in me over the years."
That's the kind of attitude that gives you a career like Kieran Fitzgerald's. He is the great GAA clubman par excellence. And what is more excellent than a great GAA clubman?
Becoming number one pick in the NFL Draft can seem like the ultimate poisoned chalice. The reward for being the best player in American college football is to be signed by the worst team in the league, thus ensuring the most difficult start possible to professional life for a young player already burdened by massive expectation.
There have been a couple of rebellions against this fate in the past. In 1983 John Elway, drafted first by the Baltimore Colts, threatened to play Major League Baseball instead unless they traded him. They did, to the Denver Broncos, where he went on to win two Super Bowls. Eli Manning pulled a similar stunt in 2013, forcing the San Diego Chargers to trade him to the New York Giants where he also won a couple of Super Bowls.
Back in February there had been speculation that this year’s number one pick, quarterback Joe Burrow, might follow in the footsteps of Elway and Manning when the LSU college star refused to commit to the Cincinatti Bengals and talked of the “leverage” he might have.
But when Burrow was picked by the Bengals ten days ago there was no word of leverage or trades. The AFC North strugglers’ decision to release quarterback Andy Dalton shows they’re confident Burrow will stay and are keen to throw him in at the deep end. It will be fascinating to see how the youngster, whose Heisman Trophy winning season was one of the greatest, does with a Cincinatti team that went 2-14 last season.
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The global sports shutdown has provided one hitherto obscure football team with an unexpected bonus. FC Slutsk of the still functioning Belarusian Premier League have attracted a large online following after a bunch of Australians started supporting them.
I’m obviously far too mature to know why the club has appealed to so many people. But the new supporters have shown their love for Slutsk by raising several thousand dollars for the financially struggling club who are delighted with their new high profile.
The novel fame seems to have inspired Slutsk to greater deeds on the pitch. At the time of writing the club, whose home stadium holds less than 2,000 spectators, were top of the league, ahead of the traditional powers of the Belarusian game. Slutsk shaming should soon be a thing of the past.
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The French decision to cancel the remainder of their soccer and rugby leagues seems like an ominous sign for major European competitions. With the German government humming and hawing about a restart to the Bundesliga, possibly on May 16, the question of whether we’ll see any football at all this summer remains up in the air.
One straw in the wind from France suggests horse racing will be the first sport back in action. The planned restart to the season there remains unaffected and is scheduled for this day week at Longchamp with a card including four group races. Ireland and England are likely to follow suit if government permission is forthcoming.
Sunday Indo Sport