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Kieran Fitzgerald: An ode to longevity

18 years after winning an All-Ireland county medal with Galway, Kieran Fitzgerald is the picture of longevity after winning his second All-Ireland club All-Ireland with Corofin.

Earlier this year, the GAA announced the release of archive footage, with highlight reels of every All-Ireland football and hurling final since the 1960s now available on their website. Such viewing material serves as a real feast for fans of our national sports, allowing us to gather glimpses into former glories and past triumphs.

For others, it serves as nostalgic reminders and odes to sporting longevity.

In Kieran Fitzgerald, these latter values are perfectly encapsulated.

The Galway man tasted All-Ireland club success with his native Corofin for the third time on Sunday. This success comes 18 years after Fitzgerald won an All-Ireland with Galway in 2001.

In a span of time that has seen the complete refurbishment of Croke Park, upheavals in rules and procedures, defensive systems and four-in-a-row brilliance, Fitzgerald serves as a testament to adaptability, consistency and continued quality.

In the All-Ireland club decider against Dr. Crokes, Fitzgerald cleared a goal-bound effort off the line in the second half, just a few minutes after slipping inside the opposition cover past the other 13-metre line to assist a well-worked Corofin point at the Hill 16 end.

Flash back 18 years and indeed, a venture through the GAA archives turns up content of Fitzgerald lining out at corner back on the same pitch for his county back in 2001, the last time the Tribesmen won Sam Maguire.

The veteran defender of 2019 is visibly different to the lanky, red-haired corner back present in the older footage. On Sunday, a grey-haired and well-built Fitzgerald strode home to All-Ireland glory, an indicator of the gym routine and strength & conditioning aspect of the game which has become commonplace.

Corofin manager Kevin O’Brien hailed Fitzgerald as “outstanding”, and a shining example to the younger players, opining that there are “no excuses” when it comes to working hard and completing off-field tasks such as gym plans and yoga.

This is hardly surprising, but on a larger scale Fitzgerald is a role model to players young and old across the country. He has shown how age is no barrier to success, and he epitomises the importance of routine and hard work in the modern GAA world.

The full-back credits some of his career endurance to stepping away from the Galway seniors in 2011, following a bad run of injuries. He asserted in a recent interview that he had lost his “bite” for the intercounty scene at the time, and that his concentration on club football allowed him a significantly higher amount of recovery time. Honourable mentions also must go to the Corofin management and set up, who Fitzgerald says understand the “mileage on the clock” he has amassed, and keep this in mind when it comes to training and physical workloads.

He even attributes a lot of his success to “luck”, but you do not win 2 All-Ireland titles in-a-row by coincidence at any grade; the old adage that class is permanent comes to mind.

The practices and standards around pre- and post-match preparation have risen massively in Gaelic football, and Fitzgerald himself fully acknowledges this. In sporting terms, to not adapt is to die and the North Galway man embodies this approach.

Fitzgerald’s pitch-roaming excursions on Sunday were undoubtedly influenced in part by the sending off of Dr. Croke’s John Payne in the first half – but on a microlevel it speaks volumes of the tactical change which has swept the game since the turn of the century.

Even recently, the Corofin stalwart had spoken of his lament at the current Galway intercounty team’s defence-heavy setup, insisting that the talent is available in the Galway ranks to play with more attacking prowess.

Such a belief was self-evidently present in the successful 2001 campaign, with Galway possessing immense offensive talent all over the field in the likes of Pådraic Joyce, Ja Fallon, Michael Donnellan, Derek Savage and Declan Meehan.

The game has of course changed since then, and Galway’s contemporary approach is reflective of the defensive trend which first came to prominence with Tyrone in the noughties before being refined and adjusted by Donegal’s Jim McGuinness, both with resounding levels of success. Despite this, attacking football still holds muster among many teams in the country, particularly at club level. Both Corofin and Dr. Crokes are out-and-out football purists, and throughout the club championship they produced displays that at times were simply breathtaking to watch.

With back-to-back All-Irelands now in the bag, Corofin’s status as the best club side in the country has been cemented even further. Among the abundance of talent at their disposal, the virtues of hard work and dedication continue to come to the fore – and none embody this attitude more than their veteran defensive rock, Kieran Fitzgerald.

All things considered, surely he will stick around to challenge for an historic three-in-a-row?

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