Garrett Fitzgerald - a good man who leaves a lasting legacy at Munster

The Cork man oversaw the transformation of the province in his 20 years as CEO.

THOMOND PARK IS renowned as one of the most thrilling and memorable stadiums in the world of rugby.

Munster’s high performance centre in the University of Limerick is among the best training facilities in European rugby.

Musgrave Park in Cork is now an all-weather venue that allows not only Munster but all rugby in the region to benefit on weekends like the one we’ve just had. 

There are the two Heineken Cups, three Celtic League/Pro14 titles, a Celtic Cup, and two British & Irish Cups to consider too.

All of these things mean Garrett Fitzgerald, who passed away on Friday at the age of 65 following an illness, leaves a game-changing legacy at Munster.

garrett-fitzgerald Donall Farmer / INPHO Garrett Fitzgerald passed away on Friday. Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

His 20 years as CEO of the province, having previously coached them to a win over Australia in 1992, saw Fitzgerald oversee the transformation of Munster Rugby. There were tough times among the successes but the tributes that have arrived from around the global game since Friday underline that Fitzgerald was and is greatly respected. 

Anyone who came across Fitzgerald or dealt with him in Munster will speak of an honest, friendly, engaged, good person who cared deeply for his province. He was a down-to-earth figure who helped to maintain a groundedness within Munster even as the professional game exploded and amateur values were left behind elsewhere.

The redevelopment of Thomond Park in 2007/08 was a major milestone in the province’s journey and the stadium is a huge part of Munster’s identity and allure. 

Musgrave Park in Cork has become a superb venue for the senior provincial team in Cork, but also schools and club rugby games, with a new indoor training facility at the site set to boost that aspect. 

Fitzgerald oversaw these developments, as well as the building of the much-needed high performance centre in UL, which allows the province to be situated in one training base after the difficulty of working between Limerick and Cork for so many years. The facility in UL is extremely impressive.

A proud Cork man, Fitzgerald always took major pride in homegrown players and coaches rising through the ranks with Munster.

His backing of Anthony Foley was a strong example of that, as Fitzgerald encouraged ‘Axel’ to take up coaching after his retirement from playing, working with the A team and as an assistant coach for the senior squad before eventually taking on the head coach role.

While that didn’t work out exactly as hoped for, Fitzgerald was insistent that Foley remain on as a prominent part of the staff when Rassie Erasmus came in to take over. So much of Munster’s remarkably united and loving reaction to Foley’s passing was driven by Fitzgerald.

garrett-fitzgerald Dan Sheridan / INPHO Fitzgerald was Munster CEO from 1999 until 2019. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

He loved watching young Munster-produced players coming through the system too, very often offering encouragement to those youngsters if they crossed paths. Munster’s B&I Cup successes won’t have registered too much in the wider rugby sphere, but the CEO took real pride in those trophies.

Fitzgerald was always very aware of Munster’s shortcomings and faults too. He faced his fair share of criticism from concerned supporters in the less successful times, but Fitzgerald was willing and able to recognise what Munster could do better. His sense of realism about their standing was important in improving matters.

As CEO, Fitzgerald was an important figure in bringing in some of the much-loved signings from abroad that served Munster so well – Dougie Howlett, Jim Williams, John Langford, and Rua Tipoki among them.

More recently, Fitzgerald helped to ensure interest from a handful of private investors in Munster, which is one reason why Damian de Allende and RG Snyman are on their way to Limerick next season.

With the highly-rated Stephen Larkham and Graham Rowntree also now part of Johann van Graan’s coaching team and a core of Ireland internationals in the squad, there is a sense that Munster could return to trophy contention in the Champions Cup next season.

Of course, it would be sad if Fitzgerald misses out on watching any such success in the near future, but he can rest in peace knowing that he has left a lasting legacy in Munster.

For now, the province is heartbroken and united in sending their love to his wife Áine, and children Megan, Jamie and Michael.

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