July 03, 1992
Cork's Ger Fitzgerald
GER FITZGERALD OF MIDLETON AND CORK FAME
Born to be a hurler
The ability of forwards to tuck away the scores in scintillating style is the real key to success at any level and that's the reason why Cork's captain, Ger Fitzgerald, fits into that category. Indeed, he is one of the hurlers the Leesiders will be looking to as a key figure in their bid to wrest Sunday's Munster title from Limerick at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
For quite a few seasons now, hurling followers have been served by some great Cork/Tipperary battles but now it's Limerick's turn to parade their talents on final day and it will be the first decider between the teams since 1980 when the Shannonsiders triumphed on a 2-14 to 2-10 scoreline. There are some fairy tales in sport and it is remarkable that the Midleton clubman, who was 28 last April, rose from the ranks of a goalkeeper to become one of the country's top forwards. Even in that position his credentials could hardly have been bettered. Born and reared in the town he captained Midleton Minor team in 1982, and made some significant saves with their Junior team that went all the way to the county semi-final after the Divisional title was regained for the first time since 1945.
That year, also, he was on the fringe of a county Minor place but was overlooked when the team was announced to play Tipperary. One way or another, however, the medals came pouring in as Midleton were very successful at Minor and Under 21 level and deservedly won both East Cork titles. The following year he was still relatively unknown outside the town and was understudy to Ger Power when the Magpies began another Championship season by beating Duhallow at Castletownroche. Indeed, in retrospect, I'm inclined to believe that the Midleton selectors made one of the best decisions ever by introducing him alongside the Boylan brothers at full forward against Youghal in that year's semi-final.
True they had a few other leading contenders but it's the shots that go between the posts that count and Ger seemed to benefit greatly by having a spectacular outing and scoring four points from play. "They decided to try him in a challenge game earlier and it worked,"says his father Paddy. "Up to then he was always a goalkeeper but the previous year (1982) he was drafted into the forward line when Midleton looked to be losing the East Cork Minor final against St. Catherine's. They fought back for a draw and won the replay but he was again given the Number One spot for the remainder of the campaign. He used to hurl with the right hand below the left at the time but a former Midleton goalkeeper Nealie Horgan got him out of it."
Success and Ger Fitzgerald has walked hand in hand since Midleton's county final triumph in 1983 and down the intervening years he has added three more titles to his credit in '86, '87 and '91 as well as Munster and All-Ireland Club awards. By a particularly nice irony, Ger was born the weekend his father Paddy travelled to Croke Park to play with Cork against Wexford in the League semi-final of April 1964. "In fact, I'm never allowed to forget it because Michael O'Hehir mentioned over the radio during the match commentary that I was a proud father of a young son and perhaps some day he'll grow up to become a famous hurler like his dad," mused Paddy, who played all grades of hurling for the County between 1956 and 1968, and won an All-Ireland medal in 1966.
With Ger in the attack Midleton fully tested the mettle of the Barrs defence in the 1983 county final and with maturity, authority and poise he scored a goal and two points as the Magpies regained the title after a 67 year lapse on a 1-18 to 2-9 scoreline. It ranked as a major breakthrough for the club and subsequently meant victory for Cork in the 1984 All-Ireland final under the leadership of John Fenton. The adrenaline around the town and surrounding areas was still surging weeks after the epic win and it wasn't just the excitement but the discovery that the players were ready to go far beyond the call of duty to achieve their goal.
Most observers would agree that Cork's success over the last number of years has been due largely to the brilliance of some of the Midleton players, in particular Denis Mulcahy, who is back on the side for the first time since the 1989 Championship, John Fenton, Pat Hartnett, Kevin Hennessy and Ger Fitzgerald and there are still vivid memories of the great All-Ireland winning teams of 1984, 1986 and 1990.
Fitzgerald is a solid progressive worker with a thundering shot that has deceived the best of 'keepers. A serious eye injury that necessitated fourteen stitches in a League game against Dublin last October threatened to end his career, but, fortunately, Ger returned to the scene for Midleton's Munster Club Championship clash with Cashel at Mitchelstown, although he had only about seventy percent vision at the time. Married to Catherine - a niece of another great Midleton hurler, Sean Fleming, who won an All-Ireland Junior medal with Cork in 1950, he lives in Castleknock, Co. Dublin and is an Aer-Lingus Mechanic.
It was at Under 21 level that he first played for the county in 1984 and from there on he had the qualification necessary to make a worthwhile impact either at wing forward or in the right corner. In 1985, he contributed handsomely to Cork's Oireachtas final win over Galway at Pairc Ui Chaoimh and it was not in the least surprising that the Championship call-up arrived in June of '86 when the side was announced to meet Waterford in the Munster semi-final at Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Swamped in the centre of the arena, the Decies could make precious little headway all through and with Fitzgerald and Hennessy scoring 2-1 each, they were trounced to the tune of 6-13 to 0-9.
Amazingly enough Ger provided the family line in that year's final win over Galway with the successful Cork team of two decades earlier when father Paddy was left half back in the 3-9 to 1-10 victory over Kilkenny. Most enthusiasts at the game accepted that while John Fenton, Kevin Hennessy and Thomas Mulcahy scored the all-important goals that mattered, Ger Fitzgerald worked like a tiger in the right corner and had the ability to win possession and pound at the defence time and again. The last ten minutes were the longest I've known anywhere as the Tribesmen tried valiantly to stay in the hunt. Then came Hennessy's second goal and it reassured the Cork supporters that the Liam McCarthy trophy was on its was to the Banks for the second time in three seasons.
Tipperary's return to Headquarters for the first time since 1971 saw Cork take a back seat during the 1987-1989 period, but full marks for the stimulating and dramatic breakthrough of 1990 when the Reds played with firmness and authority to wrest the provincial crown from the Blue and Gold at Semple Stadium. Tipp will forever wonder what happened them that day and after Ger Fitzgerald rounded Bobby Ryan for the opening point it set the scene for a spell binding contest. At the finish, Cork had their tails up and won by 4-16 to 2-14.
In fact, it is doubtful if there will be a better comeback in the game than the one that carried the Leesiders to victory that afternoon. It was without doubt one of the best performances by a Cork team in recent years. The players made light of their ranking as complete outsiders as they carried the match to the reigning champions with intelligent and skilful hurling. Against Galway in the final all six forwards - Ger Fitzgerald, Mark Foley, Tony O'Sullivan, Thomas Mulcahy, Kevin Hennessy and John Fitzgibbon - put their names on the scoresheet with Hennessy and Fitzgibbon leading the way to the 27th triumph.
In more recent times, Ger Fitzgerald's consistent sharp-shooting, allied to his good general play, make him a commanding figure alongside club colleague Kevin Hennessy and Glen Rovers' John Fitzgibbon on the edge of the square. Last year the trio shared 10-7 between them in the three Championship games including the two epics with Tipp. Now they have another proved captain with class and flair to deliver the goods on Sunday and that must give Fr. Michael O'Brien and his co-selectors great encouragement as they build up for another huge challenge.
Taken from Hogan Stand Magazine 03/07/92
Written by Tom Morrison
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