May 08, 1992
The classy Maurice Fitzgerald.
Cahirciven's Modest Maurice Fitzgerald
To the fore amongst the new breed of emerging Kerry stars
Kerry's football community inhabit a world full of expectations. Back to back victories over the Red Devils next door take a back seat to ambitions directed towards an on the trot quintet of All-Ireland Senior Championship successes. In the Kingdom expectation and tradition are easy bed-fellows, nestling in a cosy sort of symbiotic relationship in which their offsprings are not entitled to fail. Failing to want to meet the country's expectations are not part of the Kerry tradition.
Cork may posses it in kilos but their arch rivals weigh it in hundred-weights. Tradition weighs heaviest of all in footballing counties south of Athlone, it's either a vibrant fellow-traveller, a buffer in lean times or a veritable prospective millstone. For more years now, than they'd care to remember, tradition has provided a harbour in stormy waters for Kerry supporters. It's allowed them time to reorganise the fleet, to build on their current flotilla which sank Cork so impressively in last year's provincial head-to-head. The Kerry crew are in need of a lynchpin, however, to make them into something nearer to the sort of invincible force they once were under Captain Mick O'Dwyer. Some say Kerry will have to be patient. More say Cahirciveen's Maurice Fitzgerald is a leader, a flagship for Kerry football in the making.
Tradition is certainly alive in Kerry but where once it was a self-propagating organism, it now relies on nutrients principally sourced from success at All-Ireland Club and College level. Tremendous efforts to revive this self-same tradition have been made recently across the province of Munster. At youth and school level, the legendary Mick O'Connell has been playing a key coaching role. Of all the youngsters to have benefited from the teachings of the former midfield maestro, none could surely be more fulsome in their praise than Maurice Fitzgerald, Kerry's highly-acclaimed free-taker and the county's much-underrated general operative.
Maurice Fitzgerald talks of Mick O'Connell in the way scribes over the years reported on the man's brilliant performances on the field of play. "He been more than just a friend of the family over the years. Mick has been a great source of help and inspiration to me personally. I have learned a lot about Gaelic football by listening to his advice," the Saint Mary's Cahirciveen club stalwart remarked with a great deal of respect and admiration seeping through every syllable.
The great O'Connell lives just 12 miles from Kerry's modern-day prodigious scoregetter but unlike the '60's star of the Kingdom, Fitzgerald is certain to fill yards of newspaper and magazine copy for many years to come. Currently teaching Mathematics and Business Organisation at Waterville Vocational School, the 22 year old has been viewed in Kerry by his admirers as the most promising of the new line of stars. Other more conservative supporters maintain he's burgeoning furnace, not yet stoked into reaching full capacity. Skilful, a player of great awareness, he's simply been a revelation for his county since making his debut, in a match which proved to be a baptism of fire, against Mayo in a 1988 National League match. Big Maurice just happened to be marked by Willie Joe Padden!
Despite his tender years, Maurice Fitzgerald has played a lot of top class football. Equally at ease kicking balls between the posts with left or rights peg. He was a winner early on in his football apprenticeship. Cahiriciveen C.B.S. was a nursery, academically and in the sporting sense, perfectly suited to extricating the best from the towering youngster. County schools medals were picked up en route to a very rewarding sojourn with University College Cork. There, the grey matter was fully exercised as was his equally abundant physical talents. Alongside players like Ivan Aherne, Paul McGrath and John Costello, Maurice trained and worked hard to win a Sigerson Cup winners medal in 1987 under the guidance of trainer Bob Honohan.
Like most good champion sportspeople, Maurice Fitzgerald comes from good stock. In horse racing parlance, he's a thoroughbred among the plodders that ply their rusty skills earnestly every weekend. The pedigree is certainly there. Maurices' father Ned was a former Kerry captain of note back in the late 50's while his uncle Seamus O'Connor (a brother of Mary, his mother) is the holder of a record ten South Kerry Championship medals.
Maurice is 22 and improving his game piece by piece, game by game. Like his father, Ned is quick to realise he has won nothing of note yet, but he's undoubtedly a vital cog in a Kerry machine, not yet at full throttle and struggling somewhat, it has to be said, to find overdrive out of it's largely economy gear position. His importance to the Kingdom in their bid to reach the very top once again is fully recognised by Kerry County Board Treasurer, John McMahon. "Maurice's importance to the team goes way beyond that of being an excellent free-taker. He's one of our most consistent players despite the fact that he has been moved about quite a bit in the selectors attempt to create the necessary cohesion among the forwards. He has also the perfect mental attitude for the game," the affable Treasurer explained.
The player himself views his job of pointing the frees and contributing to the team's all-round show as one and the same task in pursuit of a common end-product. "I've never placed any over-emphasis on practising my free-taking, especially if it meant taking away the preparation of my overall game. I prepare well for each game, I do get nervous before each match but I enjoy the responsibility of taking frees for Kerry," Fitzgerald declared.
Tipping the scales at 13 and a half stone and stretching out towards the sky at six foot two inches plus, coming from the same proud St. Mary's club as the brilliant Jack O'Shea has in themselves set unrealistic targets for the Cahirciveen Colossus. Fitzgerald has never had the honour of playing alongside Jacko, but in terms of style, fitness and intelligence, the similarities are there for all to see. Just as Leixlip's most famous adopted son began his inter-county career up front, so too the holder of two south Kerry senior Championship medals is seen by many to be at his best in the centre half forward position.
It was, however, in the centre area that Fitzgerald earned his only All-Ireland medal. That was two years ago when, alongside Noel O'Mahony, he helped steer the Kingdom to a fine victory over Ulster challengers Tyrone in the Under 21 decider. Admirers of Fitzgerald are quick to point out that in the absence of the Cahirciveen ace for the return tie last year, Kerry were dealt a hiding. Peter Canavan, Adrian Cush and Co. having all their birthdays on the one day at Newbridge.
Brother of Cahirciveen stalwart Seamus and 'erstwhile team-mate of the likes of John Cronin and Mossey Coffey on the domestic front, Maurice is a True Blue St. Mary's player. He himself admits that the club have provided a concrete base, a steadying backdrop to his gaelic games career. It's a great club, he says, has provided great encouragement and support to him over the years. He lists people like Ciaran McCarthy, Junior Murphy, Liam Connor and J.J.Coffey as men among those in Cahirciveen who form the backbone of the club. The club's Con Keating Park represents the indigenous fervour and love of the game in the middle-sized town, a town which will almost certainly be deserted on May 24th next as the football-mad Gaels there travel in support of Fitzgerald and Co. to Cork's Pairc Ui Chaoimh for the mother of all provincial Championship clashes with Kerry.
Among the expected crowd in Cork for the Kerry duel may be Maurice's four sisters but there's unlikely to be any love lost between the arch-rivals on the field of play. Sister, Christine, is married to one Cork star - Colm O'Neill. Brotherly love is far removed from such derby matches as could ever be. Mixing the good with the ugly is not something Maurice Fitzgerald particularly likes but "winning is all-important…… as long as we win at the end of the day…", he honestly admits.
Being tough and clever on your feet is something almost in-bred into Kerry footballers. Taking the knocks, getting up and beating your marker twice before making the ball talk is part of the Kerry way. John McMahon slots Fitzgerald in alongside the best of the Kerry football tribe. "Maurice, when in possession, is a joy to watch but when the going gets tough, he's not one to lie down. This point was exemplified in 1990 when Cork beat us comfortably in the Championship. We were well beaten but Maurice must have clocked up nearly a dozen points. He was undoubtedly one of our few successes on that occasion. As regards the future, I believe he can improve even further. I honestly don't think we have yet seen the very best of Maurice and that's the great thing for us here in Kerry," the hard-working County Treasurer insisted.
Now thankfully free from the niggling groin injury, which disrupted his participation in this year's National League games against Down and Derry in the series have sharpened up his form on recovery. The 1990 Munster Railway Cup star is looking forward immensely to the high-profile Cork tie later this month. He admits though that there's quality in depth on Leeside and they could be the team everyone will have to beat to win this year's All-Ireland. Kerry were unfortunate to lose Mick O'Dwyer, he acknowledges, but the players don't begrudge the current Kildare boss his new fond association. Mickey O'Sullivan will work the oracle just as quickly, Maurice believes.
Even the sharply critical fraternity among the Kerry faithful could hardly point an accusing finger at Maurice Fitzgerald's on-the-field persona. For such a big man, he's extremely mobile and possesses a measure of balance straight from the Mickey Sheehy do-it-yourself manual. It would be a shame if his 1990 feat of beating an Australian rugby player, a Rules player and an Aussie soccer starlet in a free-taking challenge in Melbourne were to sit conspicuously beside his Under 21 medal as his sole claim to fame. Such a scenario, however, is like wishing for a rain-free year in Cahiriveen. No. They say in football circles down in Kerry that you're nobody until you win an All-Ireland Senior medal. If so, then the day can't be too far off when Maurice Fitzgerald of Cahirciveen will graduate to the heady heights of being a somebody
Taken from Hogan Stand Magazine 08/05/92
Written by Kevin Carney.
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