Tuesday 23 January 2018

Fitzgerald focused on catching Kidney's eye


Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

IF being left out of Ireland's 2007 World Cup squad at the age of 19 came as a shock to Luke Fitzgerald, imagine how he felt about being dropped during this year's Six Nations.

Until recently, Fitzgerald didn't do doubts -- he has always been the most single-minded of young sportsmen. He was simply fulfilling his long anointed promise -- the golden child of the schools scene was checking off achievements along the way to greatness.

But over the last 18 months Fitzgerald has had cause to question himself as never before. Injury, loss of form and criticism were all new to a rising star who hit a bump in the road.

Earmarked for success since childhood, as a teen he underwent a thorough rugby education at Blackrock, supplemented by the words of his former international father Des.

At 16 he was sitting down with sports psychologist Enda McNulty, setting his goals to make the 2009 Lions tour, which he achieved at the age of 21, having already won a Grand Slam.

Polished off the pitch, he burst on to the scene with a stunning sidestep, an eye for the try-line and an ability to cover a host of positions. Two years ago, it would have been inconceivable that he would not be an automatic first-choice for his country, but now he is faces pre-season with a point to prove.

Dropped by Declan Kidney for the win over England, Fitzgerald was forced to watch on as others played well in his position and Ireland gave the performance of their season. He's not keen to dwell on it, but the demotion came as a surprise to the 23-year-old.

"It was the first time I'd been dropped by Deccie so I was very disappointed and it was a big shock to me," he admitted. "So even though you are aware that you might not be playing your best rugby, you're still expecting to get into the team the next week so you can make up for it.

"I'll talk about it briefly now during pre-World Cup, but I don't want to talk about it afterwards. I think just move on from it. I finished the season strongly and hopefully Deccie knows that and I'll train hard and try to impress him and get back in the team."

Having already missed out on one World Cup, Fitzgerald is keen to get the full experience this time around. He was a one-cap bolter when he trained with Eddie O'Sullivan's squad in 2007 before being cut out of the picture early in the process. Few expected him to make it, but in his own mind he was going on the plane, such was his self-belief as a teenager.

"I wanted to go on that World Cup. I was very disappointed that I didn't. I actually got chopped from the 45, which I was pretty amazed at.

"The competition's pretty intense this time. I think if I keep going the way I'm going... I feel very strong, I'm getting stronger in the fitness sessions and in the weight room, so I feel good.

"Thankfully my ball skills are good and I'm feeling very confident about this year. Last season was definitely a struggle when I got dropped, I struggled for form and confidence. I think I got that together in the last couple of games (for Leinster). I played well in the two finals."

A big advocate of setting goals, Fitzgerald was forced to rip up last season's list and start again.

"You reset the goals. You reassess and you've got to," he said. "You have to look and say, 'am I being realistic here?'

"I always think when you write things down, it's just funny how they work out for you. I'd be a big believer in that. I was really happy to finish last season well and it was important to me.

"I've just got to keep that momentum going and try and impress Deccie."

Irish Independent

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