Corofin's Kieran still as Fitz as a fiddle
By John Harrington
You wouldn’t think it to look at him, but Kieran Fitzgerald has been playing senior club football with Corofin for over 20 years now.
The 36-year-old has the appearance of someone who found the fountain of youth in his back-garden during his mid-twenties and has been swigging from it on a daily basis ever since.
The truth is a little bit more prosaic. Fitzgerald is in the shape he’s in and still playing Gaelic Football at a very high level because his life revolves around extracting the absolute maximum from his body for as long as he can.
“Absolutely,” Fitzgerald told GAA.ie. “As you get older, you have to watch your food and your diet even more.
“Water intake and all of that. When you get older, these little niggles are highlighted even more and can be harder to shake off.
“You just have to be more mindful of your body. As a young lad, you could go out the night before and go straight onto the pitch, but now you’d fall down if you tried it. Touch wood, I’ve been pretty good injury wise.
“I do a lot of rehab and stretching and activations. Bits and pieces away from the actual training itself. Our management is very understanding as well, they understand the mileage on the clock with me, and we have a good strength and conditioning coach in Michael Comer.
“He tailors it a wee bit to suit me and there’s never any pressure on me to train 100% all the time.
“Just looking after niggles is the thing. We have a good medical team, David Hanley is our physio who is involved with the Galway senior hurlers and the Connacht rugby team. He’s excellent and he looks after any knock or niggle.”
An All-Ireland winner with Galway back in 2001, Fitzgerald’s longevity is all the more remarkable because he’s played through an era when the demands of the game have been ratcheted higher year on year.
“Yeah, the standards of the club scene has risen incrementally every year,” he admits. “There are extra little bits every year.
“Activation work before training, even a few years ago you wouldn’t be thinking about that. Analysis and your diet and physio…medical teams, it has gone up.
“The club scene in probably where the county scene was two or three years ago, and the inter-county scene I’m sure has pushed on even further now. At the real high level, the club scene is not too far away from it.
“You talk to the inter-county players with Galway, when they come back in with Corofin they’re hugely impressed. It’s not a step down for them. From where it was when I started playing to now, it’s worlds apart.”
When Fitzgerald started playing senior football with Corofin back in 1998, men like Ollie Burke, Gerry Burke, and Eddie Steed were among his team-mates. Now he’s playing with their sons Ian Burke, Daithi Burke, and Ronan Steed.
In rural Ireland, these club games are a real social event
It takes a serious commitment to stay going at the level he has for as long as he has, but it has never felt like a chore.
“I’m lucky to be involved with the club I’m with,” he says. “It’s hard to walk from that situation. To be playing at this high level, there is a massive buzz.
“Even the last day against St Brigid’s, we didn’t really play very well but to get over the line after extra time, the buzz you get off that is super. It makes it all worthwhile and it is a bit of an addiction.
“I see with my own family and supporters what it means. In rural Ireland, these club games are a real social event, from the match-day breakfast in the morning in Corofin all the way to the after-game drinks, it’s a huge social event.
“You see what the parish gets from it. They’re in and they’re talking about it before it and after it. It’s a huge buzz for them as well and for us to be part of that, or to create that, is huge.
“That's one of the big things as I’ve gotten older. I realise the effect we can have on people playing football. The mood of the area, to give them that enjoyment, it’s a good buzz and is for us too.”
He first joined the Corofin senior panel a few weeks after they’d won the 1998 All-Ireland Club Championship.
Winning an All-Ireland club medal of his own became more and more of an obsession with every passing year until he finally satisfied it when Corofin beat Slaughtneil in the 2015 Final.
“Yeah, the overriding feeling after winning it in 2015 was a wee bit of an anti-climax and a huge sigh of relief,” says Fitzgerald.
“Because we have had good teams in the past that just didn’t get there. Beaten by Kilmacud twice and St Gall’s, beaten in Connacht finals by Brigid's.
“They would have been right good teams but just couldn't get there. So when we did it, it was just huge relief.
“To go from 1998 to 2015, a lot of players have gone through there without actually getting there.
“So yeah, it was great to do it, it would be nice to do it again, but that feeling was just pure relief.”
They had ambitions of winning another All-Ireland title last year until they came a cropper against Kerry and Munster champions Dr Crokes in the All-Ireland semi-final.
It was one of those days where the team didn’t play to its full potential, which is why the manner in which they’ve bounced back to reach another AIB Connacht SFC Final against familiar foes Castlebar on Sunday has been such a satisfying achievement.
“Yeah it’s super,” says Fitzgerald. “Crokes didn’t happen for us. We were blown out of the water early and were chasing the game, and then we got hit again.
“We got within four and they hit us with another goal. Crokes are a serious football team and we found them too hot to handle that day. We had to lick our wounds and look for another way of doing things, and come back again.
“To be back in a Connacht final again is super. Castlebar have been knocking on the door in All-Irelands finals either side of the year we won it, so they’re a formidable outfit as well.
“They're well-coached and hugely determined. They’ll come to Tuam full of confidence, and I’m delighted to be back there but that’s only half the job really.
“It’s our fourth meeting in maybe five years. It’s unusual that we have played Castlebar twice in Tuam where they’ve beaten us, and then we beat them in Castlebar.
“Home advantage doesn’t really seem to count for much. It’s going to be a 50-50 game. They seem to enjoy coming to Tuam so it’ll be a tough game.”