Fionn Fitzgerald wants Crokes to achieve again
By Cian O’Connell
Fionn Fitzgerald acknowledges that these are particularly interesting times for Dr Crokes in Killarney. Since 2010 seven Kerry, four Munster, and one All Ireland title have been secured, but the desire to earn more silverware on the national stage remains strong.
In many ways Crokes’ story is similar to Corofin, who were prominent in Galway and Connacht for so long before eventually returning to the summit on St Patrick’s Day in 2015.
Since then Corofin added another All Ireland in 2018, and while Crokes triumphed a year previously Fitzgerald accepts that the current crop of Crokes players want to cement their own status by reaching the top again.
“Yeah, I suppose that is a fair point,” Fitzgerald says. “When we first started winning County Finals were a huge thing, but an All Ireland trumps everything you can possibly do.
“Winning that one and getting that elusive medal was great, of course. We are all competitive by our nature. We realise we have a good team at the moment and it basically won't last forever so you are trying to get as much out of it as you possibly can.
“Some fellas are coming to the end of their careers, others are starting out. It is just trying to blend that level of experience and hope you can do as well as you possibly can because it will be all over in a number of years. You just hope that you have done yourself justice, and that you have good memories.”
Back in 2017 when Crokes defeated Slaughtneil at GAA headquarters the ultimate glory was attained, but seven months later they were dethroned by Nemo Rangers. That hurt Crokes deeply according to Fitzgerald. “Coming towards an All Ireland Final is the biggest achievement you can get to in any club season,” Fitzgerald admits.
“We got there two years ago and it was something we had aspired to do for years and years. It looked like we weren't going to do for a while so having an opportunity to get back there again after a disappointing finish last year losing to Nemo means a bit more to us.
“When you lose games you have to learn something really. We were very disappointed for a while, but we realised we had a massive run of it previous to that.”
So Crokes used their time off wisely returning to the playing fields of Kerry and Munster eager to summon a response, but an All Ireland semi-final is always a tricky encounter. “I think in a way it gave us added incentive and we were a bit fresher,” Fitzgerald says. “We got a small bit of a break. It has worked out well so far. This is an unusual game and it always has been in the sense you have nothing to gauge where you are at really.
“You are playing week in, week out all year and coming up to Christmas. Once your provincial championship is over you are waiting for three months or so. There is an element of not fully knowing where you are at. You just have to trust all the training you've done and your experience. Hopefully that will be enough for us.”
Mulinalaghta St Columba’s stunning journey ensures Crokes are well warned about the potential of the Longford and Leinster standard bearers. “Absolutely, this is a genuine thought and the All Ireland semi-finals are incredibly competitive,” Fitzgerald adds.
“The provincials are too, but when it gets to the All Ireland semi-final stage if you look back over the last number of years they've always been competitive games. Always really strong teams who are provincial winners.
“From a Mullinalaghta perspective, I'm not sure if people have fully given them, not the respect they deserve, but essentially they have been knocking on the door for a number of years.
“This hasn't come out of nowhere. They have won three County Finals in a row and a couple of years ago they ran Vincent's very close and last year they lost by a point to Loman's.
“So this year even beating Kilmacud, Eire Og, and Rhode they have pedigree and they are going to be around for the next number of years. They are a team that have been knocking around for a number of years.”
A lecturer in the Health and Leisure Department of IT Tralee, Fitzgerald is encouraged by how Crokes have integrated young players into the set-up during recent campaigns. “That is down to the strength of the team,” Fitzgerald says about how Crokes have developed.
“Certain players have made their way into the team one by one. There has been no major influx of players in one go or anything.
“Players have retired and moved on, others have just slipped in. You have a lot of players on the subs bench now, who have played before and are offering something completely different than we had before.
“I think we are in a really strong place from that point of view. It is always good to have new players in the team, it is equally important to have massive experience, which we do in a lot of sectors.”
That is most certainly the case and it is precisely why Crokes will afford Mullinalagtha the utmost respect at Semple Stadium on Saturday afternoon.