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Neighbourhood watch for Fitzgibbon

Wednesday, 25th July, 2018 4:57pm

For the first time ever, Cork and Limerick will face each other for their place in the All-Ireland Final on Sunday. The pair both have crosses to bare in this game for very different reasons; for Cork, it’s an opportunity to atone recent results at this juncture - since their last win in the All-Ireland Final in 2005 they have lost five of seven semi-finals.

Last year’s hammering at the hands of Waterford, three years after a similar execution by Tipperary at HQ, has cut this team deep.

For Limerick, it’s 11 years since their last All-Ireland Final appearance and 45 years since the Liam McCarthy was last lifted by the Treaty County. The stakes are high.

Midfielder Darragh Fitzgibbon is enjoying an exhilarating championship this year after making his début in 2017. Unbeaten in Munster, back-to-back Munster titles in his first two seasons, and a Munster title at under 21 to boot, Fitzgibbon has set this championship alight. “It’s been a really good summer so far. If you’d said at the start of the year that I was going to win two Munster medals, I’d have been very happy with that but we’ve a lot more to do.”

Fitzgibbon almost missed the two Munster Finals through illness - a call came through to the camp on the Friday before the senior game that he had been struck down with a virus.

Far from complaining, Fitzgibbon battled through 40 degree pitchside heat in Thurles on the Sunday, playing the full 70 minutes to win one medal, and insisted on starting against Tipperary on the Wednesday in the Under 21 Final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Although he had to be substituted, Fitzgibbon had given his all to the two sides, his reward was two Munster titles in three days.

“I had a virus, I was feeling sicker on the Wednesday after the two games rather than the Sunday but the winning made it all the sweeter. I had to do it though, I was sent off last year (in the Under 21 Munster semi-final) so I missed the Munster Final through suspension so I felt that maybe I had left the lads down for what was a stupid decision but then to make amends for it this year was great.”

There is no player who needs a win on Sunday as much as Fitzgibbon. The county border is literally a few yards from his house in Charleville, and with a father from Milford and a mother from Charleville, Fitzgibbon’s life has been brought up with a deep love for the red Cork and a hatred for the green of Limerick.

That’s what living on the border does to families, friends, neighbours and clubs. It gets under their skin just the little bit more.

Speaking about their opponent for Sunday’s game, Fitzgibbon said: “They’re a really good side, when we played them earlier in the championship there was nothing between us. I’m living so close to Limerick myself and I know a lot about the players - my first cousin is Richie English so I know only too well what they’re like!”

A quiet and unassuming character, Fitzgibbon does his talking on the pitch rather than off it, four points from play from his midfield berth in the drawn game with Limerick earlier in the summer will tell you all you need to know about what that game meant to him.

Sunday’s semi-final, however, is not just about rivalry but about fixing the mistakes of previous season including last year’s 11 point to Waterford.

“We learned a lot from last year, losing that game,” he said.

“You learn more from what you lose so this year is all about getting over that hurdle. We’ve a point to prove. We lost heavily in the game last year in the end, we’ve carried out this year the same as last season so far, so now it’s about taking that extra step.”

Win or lose, Fitzgibbon is on the road again on Saturday week with the Under 21 hurlers for the county’s first All-Ireland semi-final in this grade for 11 years. With Wexford the opponents, Fitzgibbon is weary of the threat the Model County pose.

“I saw the Leinster Final and there was absolutely nothing between Wexford and Galway. I think Galway won the Minor in the corresponding year so that will tell you what kind of sides they both are. There’s a lot in trying to get it right between the senior and the Under 21, we have a week in between the two games this time so it’s all about finding the right balance but you just have to deal with.

“You see teams like Waterford and Clare, they’ve done it in recent seasons and we have no excuses, we just have to go and do it.”

A pillar of strength in this Cork side, Fitzgibbon has thrown the shackles off this season, evident in his scintillating Munster championship performances.

“I’m enjoying it way more this year,” he added.

“There’s a lot less pressure. In my first season last year I was just trying not to make a mistake really! I was trying to do everything right but this year I feel way more settled and there’s way less pressure – I think that comes a lot from the management and the players around us, they’re really encouraging. There’s a great atmosphere in the camp,” he concluded before adding with a smile, “the winning helps that!”

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