Fitzsimons: we needed Lilies jolt
Cuala man sees positives in Dublin's 'sobering' defeat
'SOBERING' was the best adjective Mick Fitzsimons could find to describe Sunday's O'Byrne Cup semi-final defeat to Kildare.
"We probably needed that to bring us down to earth and give us food for thought," stated the Cuala defender, somewhat shaken but not entirely stirred by events in Newbridge.
"I have trouble analysing games when I'm playing," he demurred when pressed for an explanation. "I haven't looked back at it. But they seemed to be very organised in defence. We had a few goal chances but they were good in the tackle and they dispossessed us a lot."
It's been a January of reality checks for the 2011 All-Ireland champions, an event which must seem to represent a fading memory for Fitzsimons and his Dublin brethren.
First came the early morning training sessions.
"That was a sobering enough experience too," he confirmed. "It was tough but after the break, we needed it. It was a bit of a detox and you could feel the benefits of it straight away."
Then came Kildare, visibly more advanced in their seasonal slog and visibly hell-bent on breaking their Dublin duck, even if it was 'only' the O'Byrne Cup.
Next come Kerry.
And if the Lilies were more ravenous, fitter and smarter in how they carved out Dublin's first loss since last year's Allianz League final, just imagine the frame of body and mind Kerry will bring to Croke Park in just under two weeks.
"There is always going to be enough pressure on us anyway with every team wanting to have a go at us," Fitzsimons accepted. "I don't think it will make too much of a difference. Kerry will be dying to beat us anyway.
"Teams do love to beat Dublin anyway and try and silence the crowd. There will probably be a bit extra this year. I never had that experience (being All-Ireland champions) before, but it will force us to step up if other teams are stepping up to play us. We'll have to improve to beat them."
But back, for a second, to the pre-dawn training. If Pat Gilroy needed a whip with which to flog his panel, then surely Kildare provided the implement gift-wrapped.
Asked whether the manager would use the loss against the players over the next two weeks, Fitzsimons smiled: "Yeah, I think so. That's the way it's looking. We tend to learn a lot from our defeats. So we'll look back over it, see where we went wrong and try and improve."
The public fascination over Dublin's early starts has eased somewhat since they re-convened in January, but one question has remained: If they were designed to build character in a team and that team subsequently came from behind to win four of the six games in the journey to All-Ireland glory, what effect do they have now?
"What they were good for," Fitzsimons explains, "was everyone was questioning our hunger. People were wondering whether the intensity was going to be the same this year as the previous two years after winning the All-Ireland.
"It was definitely something we looked at and we all agreed we need to be at a higher level than we have been. We have to push it on a bit more. If we want to get to a semi-final or a final this year, we'll have to push it on a bit more."
It's just 11 days now until Kerry come to town to re-inspect the scene of the crime for the opening round of the Allianz League and the first instalment of this year's spring series but, just like Kildare on Sunday, it's wholly likely that the Munster side are putting more stock in the result than Dublin.
That represents something of a turnaround in Dublin's fortunes, particularly now that they have beaten Kerry in their three most recent meetings in league and championship.
The offshoot of the three one-point victories is that Fitzsimons and the fresher faces on the Dublin panel have few inhibitions when it comes to tackling the Kingdom's finest.
"I don't have a hang-up about Kerry," he stressed.
"I don't have any mental scars from being beaten by them repeatedly.
"It's probably similar to the All Blacks. A lot of teams fear them because they continually beat them but, luckily enough, a lot of the lads don't have that problem," he concluded.