Michael Fitzsimons: 'I'm beyond self-doubt'
By John Harrington
Michael Fitzsimons was an unlikely All-Ireland Final replay hero for Dublin last September.
A late addition to the team, it was his first championship start since Dublin had been beaten by Donegal in the 2014 All-Ireland Semi-Final.
Away from the bright lights he had kept scrapping for status in the dog-eat-dog environment of Dublin’s highly competitive panel, until eventually Jim Gavin could no longer ignore his claims for another chance.
The fact that he took it so spectacularly by producing a man of the match performance in the biggest game of the year is a testament to the Cuala man’s self-belief.
He puts that big-match mind-set down to the maturity that comes from learning things the hard way.
“I think I’m beyond self-doubt at the moment, previously when I was younger self-doubt would creep in but I think I’m mature enough not to fall down that pathway but it does drive you on,” says Fitzsimons.
“You go through a range of emotions - frustration, anger - but when you face reality and what it is, you have to face it. Like, if I was a bit blind to that or blind to myself that I’m not on a team that’s got plenty of competition I’d get more frustrated and sometimes that hasn’t helped with my performance.
“So I’ve actually been through it since sort of 2012 and 2013 onwards where it’s been ups and downs in my season so I’ve actually learned a lot, whereas previously if I wasn’t playing come the quarter-final, I’d start trying to make these drastic changes in my game during the summer to try and do something, and at the end of the day I’d start making mistakes because I was doing stuff I wasn’t doing week-in week-out.
“But from now on I sort of trust my own ability, trust the way I play, and have a bit more patience. I sort of understand that there’s huge competition and I’d back myself a bit more then. Fortunately enough things fell my way.”
It’s a testament to the high-standards demanded in the Dublin panel that Fitzsimons has no clear recollection of all the good things he did in the All-Ireland Final replay against Mayo, whereas two small errors he made stand out in his own mind’s eye.
“When you’re playing well, it just sort of goes past you. It just goes very quickly. You don’t overthink it.
“Whereas when you’re playing poorly, you’re thinking every single move and you’re really aware of the consequences of your actions.
“The only two stages where things slowed down were when I probably could have taken my point at the end and, also, when I turned my back on a kick-out.
“It could easily have gotten kick to my back and Stephen let me know all about it. So those two moments…I was aware of it but to have only two moments when you’re a bit self conscious about yourself in the game is pretty good.
“Especially when you’re playing corner back, when you’re playing one-on-one with some very good forwards.”
As well as he played in last year’s All-Ireland Final replay, Fitzsimons doesn’t think that performance has improved his standing in the Dublin panel pecking order.
He’s taking the attitude that in 2017 he’ll have to prove himself all over again to manager Jim Gavin.
“I can’t tell with Jim Gavin, no, I think there’s a huge amount of competition. There’s new lads in and this year even lads in the O’Byrne Cup and stuff like that so I’m under no illusions that I’m in a position better than any other year.
“Each year I go in I want to improve myself and I feel if I do that, I should start or get into a good position.
“But it’s a team game so wherever I end up at the end of it…obviously I’d prefer to be playing as much as possible but as long as I can contribute to this team I’ll be delighted.”
Fitzsimons is clearly the sort of guy who doesn’t like to get too far ahead of himself, so you won’t be surprised to hear the prospect of making some history by winning a three-in-a-row of All-Ireland titles with Dublin this year is not something he’s given too much thought.
The three-in-a-row hype will grow with every match they win this summer, but Fitzsimons doesn’t think it will prove to be a burden for the players.
“Hopefully there won’t be, I think we got used to it last year and to be perfectly honest walking off the pitch I didn’t think of two in a row at any stage.
“Previously in 2011 it definitely would have got into our heads a little bit and people would have been saying a bit more, but as this group has matured we are probably looking more at each game for performance rather than outcome.
“If you get sort of fixed on that, you will be in trouble especially with the competition out there, so unless we slip into bad habits hopefully we’ll stick to each game and hope to get through them.”