Saturday 25 November 2017

Luke Fitzgerald: Joe has told me I'm really, really close

Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald has fought back from two career-threatening injuries and has in the past admitted that feared for his playing future. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald has fought back from two career-threatening injuries and has in the past admitted that feared for his playing future. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

When Luke Fitzgerald's dancing feet lit up a dull Pro12 contest last Friday night, one couldn't help but wonder just how pleased Joe Schmidt was.

Fitzgerald has won only 26 Ireland caps since his debut nine years ago, with persistent injures robbing of him of more game time in a green jersey, but in his own words: "I feel like I'm getting close to where I was."

The 27-year-old has fought back from two career-threatening injuries and has in the past admitted that feared for his playing future.

Groin and abdomen surgeries last season was another major setback but now that he is back firing, he is keen to stay focused on the positive things.

"As you get a bit more mature you realise that being intense, uptight doesn't add any value," Fitzgerald said.

Wasted

"It's probably a bit of wasted energy. It doesn't give you clarity of thought out on the pitch. When things are happening really fast, being calm at that moment is important.

"All the best players seem to have that bit of calmness in those periods and I'm trying to emulate, copy a couple of those guys and try bring it to my game."

Fitzgerald's versatility has seen him constantly shift around the backline.

He was named on the wing for the Ireland Wolfhounds game against England Saxons last month, which spoke volumes about where Schmidt sees him fitting into his plans.

For a long time, Fitzgerald was heralded as the long-term replacement for Brian O'Driscoll at outside-centre but that is no longer the case.

"Joe mentioned it to Matty (O'Connor) and I mentioned to him as well, that Joe was looking at me as primarily as a winger," he revealed.

"I would say more as a utility option and cover on the bench for that centre spot but primarily a winger and I think he (O'Connor) wanted to put me in the shop window a bit.

"I don't think I have to do anything more than I'm doing. I know from getting the feedback from Joe that I'm knocking on the door and I'm really, really close.

"I have a big advantage having worked with him for three or four years beforehand. There's a trust there.

"He's a very technical coach, so a lot of those things are ingrained in me.

"I think I've an advantage over the other guys in that respect. I feel really ready to go. I feel great. I'm in a very good spot.

"It's like you have different systems for different things on the pitch and I feel like I'm back with those things being on auto-pilot again - that kind of instinctive place that every athlete wants to get to."

Fitzgerald linked up with the Ireland squad at Carton House yesterday as he hopes to force himself into this week's reckoning.

"I feel like I'm still on that upward curve and getting back to where I would really like to be and where I feel I can get to.

"I love to always be aspiring to be better, and I think I'm getting back to where I was before. I feel like there is a huge amount of potential left in me."

That will be music to Schmidt's ears.

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