Late-bloomer Michael Fitzsimons taking nothing for granted
SUCH IS THE competition in Dublin’s all-conquering squad, even a man-of-the-match performance in last year’s All-Ireland final replay doesn’t guarantee Michael Fitzsimons a spot in Jim Gavin’s 2017 starting line-up.
Far from it. Nobody understands that more than Fitzsimons.
Source: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
A late-bloomer, he never made an underage Dublin squad, let alone the first XV. Then in 2011, Fitzsimons, a 23-year-old from Cuala, an intermediate football club, forced his way into Dublin’s All-Ireland winning defence.
After playing a key role in Dublin’s first September success in 16 years, he spent the next few years trying to win his place back. He started Dublin’s shock 2014 semi-final reverse to Donegal, and wouldn’t make another championship start for 26 months.
Such is the downside of playing in one of the most dominant teams we’ve seen since the turn of the century.
“When I was younger self-doubt would creep in,” he says.
“You go through a range of emotions; frustration, anger but when you face reality and what it is, you have to face it. If I was a bit blind to that or blind to myself that I’m not on a team that’s got plenty of competition, I’d get more frustrated and sometimes that hasn’t helped with my performance.
“I’ve actually been through it since sort of 2012 and 2013 onwards where it’s been ups and downs in my season so I’ve actually learned a lot.
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Michael Fitzsimons at the Dublin GAA New Commercial Partnership Announcement
Source: Gary Carr/INPHO
“Whereas previously say I wasn’t playing come the quarter-final, I’d start trying to make these drastic changes in my game during the summer to try and do something, and at the end of the day I’d start making mistakes because I was doing stuff I wasn’t doing week-in week-out.”
These days, the defender feels he’s far more bullet-proof mentally, and that’s what he believes helped him force his way into Gavin’s plans at the 11th hour.
“I think I’m beyond self-doubt at the moment,” he continues. “I think I’m mature enough not to fall down that pathway but it does drive you on.”
“From now on I sort of trust my own ability, trust the way I play and have a bit more patience. I sort of understand that there’s huge competition and I’d back myself a bit more then. Fortunately enough things fell my way.”
So what’s it like to save your best performance for All-Ireland final day? Is every play from that game ingrained in his mind?
“Not really. When you’re playing well, it just sort of goes past you. It goes very quickly. You don’t overthink it.
“Whereas when you’re playing poorly, you’re thinking every single move and you’re really aware of the consequences of your actions.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
“The only two stages where things slowed down were when I probably could have taken my point at the end and also, when I turned my back on a kick-out.
“It could easily have gotten kick to my back and Stephen (Cluxton) let me know all about it. So those two moments, I was aware of it but to have only two moments when you’re a bit self conscious about yourself in the game is pretty good. Especially when you’re playing corner back, when you’re playing one-on-one with some very good forwards.”
As well as chasing Sam Maguire on a yearly basis, Fitzsimons is studying to be a doctor. He’s in his second year of his graduate medicine studies at UCD and he has a busy schedule.
“I’d be working and studying and training, so it I was a lot busier than when I was just working and training.”
Still, he’s focused on earning his place during the spring and keeping it. It’s hard to change a winning team and Dublin haven’t lost in the league or championship in 29 games.
“The season went on longer so that’s why there was a change in holiday dates. The nature of the group is, no-one is going to rest on their laurels. There’s huge competition. People, in a good way, are looking over their shoulder, knowing they have to work hard.
“I think lads will be pushing hard for the league. Because I know myself from experience. If you’re starting in the league, you’re starting in the Championship. And if you’re not, it’s a little bit of a disadvantage.
“So everyone is pushing for a spot and that drives up standards.”
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