Saturday 24 August 2019

Attacking Rebels all set for Clare challenge - Fitzgibbon

Cork's Darragh Fitzgibbon. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Cork's Darragh Fitzgibbon. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

Last September, just over 1.1 million people tuned in to watch the All-Ireland hurling decider, but Cork's Darragh Fitzgibbon wasn't one of them.

The 21-year-old Charleville man can't remember exactly what he was doing when Galway and Waterford took to the field, just that after being turned away at the door - after Cork's late semi-final meltdown against Waterford - he'd little interest in gazing in at someone else's party.

That, and juggling inter-county careers at both senior and U-21 level gobbles up enough time without spending what little remains as a spectator.

"I didn't watch it," he says. "You're involved enough when you're training and playing matches the whole time so when I'm not involved I try to get away."


Having led inside the final quarter in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, the wheels fell off the Rebels' charge soon after Damien Cahalane was shown a red card, after which Waterford knifed them for 2-2 in just four minutes before running out 11-point winners.

What-ifs would only drive a man demented, so Fitzgibbon (right) has a blunt assessment of last year.

"We knew we weren't good enough to get to the final. The Waterford system is hard enough to play against when you have 15; when we lost a man they cut us open in our back line, got the goals and they were the better side on the day. It's hard to win when you go down to 14 men."

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At 21, Fitzgibbon is far too young to carry any emotional baggage from that defeat, and if anything his second season with the Cork seniors has been a joy in comparison.

He thinks back to last year's Munster final - how despite their five-point victory over Clare, that afternoon passed by amid a wave of apprehension.

"Last year was a bit of a blur," he says. "You don't really take in anything because you want to do the right thing.

"You're trying not to make a mistake in front of the big crowd. This year there's less pressure, you're less nervous, a bit more settled and (play with) a bit more freedom."

Fitzgibbon is one of several U-21s in John Meyler's senior panel and as they prepare to again square off with Clare for the Munster final this Sunday, it seems that trusting the fearlessness of youth is paying dividends for Meyler and Co.

"They showed a lot of faith in us and a lot of confidence," says Fitzgibbon. "They told us to go out and play with a lot of freedom and not be afraid to make a mistake."

Cork's free-flowing game has helped re-invigorate the Munster championship, and Fitzgibbon is thriving in their set-up, picking off eight points from midfield across the four round-robin matches this year.

"It's one of the most enjoyable systems I've ever played in. It's not really defensive; you're encouraged to attack the ball and get on the ball and it's a hugely enjoyable way to play."

And just 76 hours after Sunday's game finishes, Fitzgibbon will tog out in Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the Munster U-21 final against Tipperary on Wednesday evening The two days in between are likely to be spent in the pool and getting in some tactical cramming at team meetings.

"It's a good complaint," he says. "You can have too much time (between games) and a couple of days is grand."

Last year the Cork seniors had five weeks between their Munster final victory and All-Ireland semi-final exit, but if they get over the line on Sunday that'll be down to four under the revised format.

"The less weeks you have the better because you want to be playing more games, but you can lose that bit of momentum from game to game with the long wait. I think it hampered us a small bit last year."

Cork closed out a five-point victory over Clare in their first game of the Munster championship back in May, although subsequent draws against Limerick and Tipperary, followed by a shaky win over Waterford, has left many believing that Clare can reverse the form this weekend.

And Fitzgibbon is fully expecting a different Banner outfit in Thurles on Sunday.

"Clare have improved a lot since the first game, made a few changes and they seem more settled.

"They're at a different level to when we played them in the first round," he says. "But there's going to be nothing in it on Sunday and we're just ready to go."

Darragh Fitzgibbon was speaking at the launch of the Bord Gáis Energy GAA hurling U-21 Munster and Leinster finals.

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