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Wednesday 13 November 2019

Dub Mick Fitz the bill as one in a hundred

Top-notch defender recounts his very first point on the day that he became a Sky Blue centurion

Cuala and Dublin footballer Michael Fitzsimons at today’s sponsorship launch between Cuala and Amgen at Croke Park in Dublin, which is the first GAA club sponsorship to include education and employment incentives. Pic: Sportsfile
Cuala and Dublin footballer Michael Fitzsimons at today’s sponsorship launch between Cuala and Amgen at Croke Park in Dublin, which is the first GAA club sponsorship to include education and employment incentives. Pic: Sportsfile

The symmetry sounds almost too good to be true. In the 72nd minute of his 100 senior appearance, Mick Fitzsimons struck his very first Dublin point.

"First shot and first point," he confirms with that all-important clarification. "100pc record!"

For Fitzsimons to be so far up the field in the first place - during garbage time in Saturday's Leinster SFC quarter-final against Louth - might have been enough to induce a nose bleed.

Not that you'd have guessed from the nonchalant manner of his right-footed execution. Then again, maybe it helped that the Cuala defender's maiden score stretched Dublin's lead to a towering 26 points.

As he returned to the dressing-room in Portlaoise, to be greeted by the cheers and wisecracks of his teammates, Fitzsimons was blissfully unaware that he'd just established another benchmark.

He was now a Sky Blue centurion. "John Costello told me afterwards," he reveals. "You wouldn't keep track of that - is that league and championship?"

Sprung

This, indeed, is the case - all of which means that a player who never featured at minor or U21 level for his county, and who first sprung to attention on the Dublin team that claimed All-Ireland Junior success in 2008, has joined a very select group.

Fitzsimons made his Allianz League baptism against Derry in 2010 and made it 100 not out as Dublin sailed over the first championship fence of this history-chasing summer.

Proud to reach that landmark?

"Yeah, it is one of those things," he replies. "It's a cliché, you don't take count of it and you probably don't appreciate it when you're doing it. But when I came on and started in 2010, your focus is just to get a few games - and then it spirals out of control.

"There's lulls where you don't know whether you'll keep going, and times when you really want to keep going."

Safe to say now is one of those times, as Dublin set off in pursuit of an unprecedented All-Ireland SFC five-in-a-row.

The 31-year-old was speaking at yesterday's Croke Park announcement of a three-year sponsorship between Cuala and the American biotechnology company, Amgen - a unique partnership that will include player education and employment incentives.

He is indebted to all those at the Cuala juvenile coalface, and beyond, who have helped bring him to where he is today: the proud owner of six Celtic Crosses, numerous more league and Leinster medals, and a 2017 All Star.

And yet, as a teenager out Dalkey way, he was never mapped out for greatness. "I was on the minor Bs and stuff like that," he recalls. "I wasn't a great half-back, and then someone put me in the full-back line, which I hadn't played, at the age of probably 18.

"I ended up in the full-back line and found a niche for me, enjoyed it, enjoyed the analytical and the technical aspects of trying to keep someone else quiet."

Playing with the Dublin juniors gave him a taste for it. Then Pat Gilroy, seeking to recast his defence after the Kerry calamity of 2009, came calling.

Harking back to the 2010 league, Fitzsimons remembers: "The first game was against Kerry, and he rang me up when the team was named saying I wasn't playing. And I was like 'It's quite funny that he's ringing me' … it was my first year on the panel, I wasn't expecting to be involved.

"We then trained on the Tuesday and Thursday. It was all new to me, and it looked like I was on the first team on Thursday and I got named to play Derry in Parnell Park. I think it was a Saturday night game."

And a winning debut too.

Blanks

Reflecting back on his first 99 'blanks', Fitzsimons has reason to recall the nearest he had previously come to scoring - the 2016 All-Ireland final replay against Mayo.

He was named man of the match; but what about the chance that got away, in injury-time, as he burst through the middle, Dublin protecting a threadbare one-point lead?

"I tried to lay it off - unsuccessfully! - and nearly cost us," he says, recounting the moment when Bernard Brogan was blocked down, under pressure, and Mayo surged forward to win a free, a potential equaliser that was missed.

"I think I was very close (to goal) - I really should have scored! I really should have taken it myself, but it just wasn't in my head to do that. So, it's nice to get it out of the way (against Louth)."

A less pressurised scenario?

"There's always pressure. If you got blocked down, it wouldn't have looked good," he counters.

"But I think Kevin Mac (McManamon) was up the pitch and he had always said to me to get a point when you're up there, practice at training … I wouldn't even score at training. So I thought he wanted to give me the ball, but I don't know if he actually did. He probably looked like he was through on goal and I just blocked it up for him, so he had to give it to me!"

The rest is history: a 0-1 stat he won't forget in a hurry.

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