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'The first year I was there they got to the FA Cup final... Steven Gerrard scored that screamer'

Lorcan Fitzgerald on life at Shels, his early days with West Ham and rediscovering his love of football.

Lorcan Fitzgerald is in his third spell at Shels.
Lorcan Fitzgerald is in his third spell at Shels.
Image: Cathal Noonan

LIFE IS GOOD for Lorcan Fitzgerald right now. This season, the full-back has captained a Shels side that are currently top of the First Division.

It has been far from perfect, of course. They have lost four and drawn one of their 14 matches, and with four points separating the top-six teams, no one yet has looked like convincing candidates for the title.

Tomorrow, Shels host second-place Longford, who are just a point behind the leaders with a game in hand.

Fitzgerald admits his side have yet to hit top gear. He attributes their inconsistency to the fact that several new players arrived over the course of the summer, while others departed. High-profile League of Ireland names, including Conan Byrne, Ciaran Kilduff and Ryan Brennan have arrived.

Ian Morris also ended his playing career with Bohs to become Shels manager, and he has tried to implement “a new philosophy” at the club, with the onus on playing out from the back.

While it remains a work in progress, Fitzgerald is hopeful the team will continue to improve.

“Promotion is key for us and I’d probably go further and say we don’t want to go up through the play-offs, we want to try to win the league.

“A lot of teams around the country would probably say that Shels are a sleeping giant in Irish football. I think a lot of the Dublin teams would like to have Shels back in the league. They’re big matches.”

Fitzgerald, now in his third stint at Shels, was part of the team when they last won promotion to the top flight in 2011, before they were relegated again two years later.

Players in the squad will undoubtedly be aware of the club’s proud history and the fact that for a period in the early-to-mid 2000s, they were unquestionably the dominant side in Ireland. But few if any of the others have the unique affinity that Fitzgerald enjoys with the club.

His father was a big fan of the Dublin team and would take him to games at Tolka Park as a youngster. He then joined the club at around the age of 10, before signing for West Ham in 2006.

“I was there for the good times with Ollie Byrne and Pat Fenlon as manager, and I grew watching the likes of Glenn Crowe and Pat Fenlon playing in Tolka Park,” he tells The42.

I was there that night we played Brondby. I remember being there as part of the Shelbourne set-up. So I know the potential the club has and I know how big the club was and still is, don’t get me wrong. But when you’re talking about promotion, the carrot at the end of the stick is those big moments in derbies and things like that.

“I know the [other] players think it’s a big club, but I don’t think they realise how big those nights can be.”

Fitzgerald’s path after leaving Shels has a familiar ring to it. Joining the Hammers in his mid-teens, he returned home three years later, unhappy at having not realised his dream of playing Premier League football.

“It’s not easy going away for any kid, not just myself. It’s harder than you think and you’re going through stuff that you don’t even realise you’re going through [such as] homesickness. But it was a good experience. 

“The first year I was there they got to the FA Cup final in the Milennium Stadium. Steven Gerrard scored that screamer [as Liverpool won on penalties after a 3-3 draw]. We travelled down with the squad. I was there in the ground, it was a great game.

“It would have been around the era when Carlos Tevez and Mascherano came into the club. Paul Konchesky was the left-back — he was flying at that stage and [getting into the team] was always going to be a tough ask. I had a few injuries and a change of managers, and whatever the reason, it just wasn’t meant to be. I came to the end of the contract and it just wasn’t renewed.

“I was a bit disillusioned with football. I didn’t really know where I stood at home. I had a few offers in England. I fell out of love with the game. It’s something I look back on as a good experience — because I went through the bad in football, I know I can’t get that low again.

“I got a phone call from Liam Buckley when I was over in England. I had a coffee with him and he asked me would I come home to Sporting Fingal. He showed me the plans for the club and [moving there] just struck me as the right thing to do at the time.”

Soccer - West Ham Press Conference - Upton Park, East London. Carlos Tevez (left) and Javier Mascherano joined West Ham during Fitzgerald's time at the club. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Though Sporting Fingal didn’t work out too well ultimately as the club went out of existence owing to financial problems, a rejuvenated Fitzgerald managed to carve out a respectable career in the League of Ireland, twice more playing for Shelbourne, with stints at St Patrick’s Athletic and Bohemians in between.

“I think it was probably a mixture of both support from family and playing football [regularly]. It made me forget all the negative stuff, to just go out and enjoy my football. That breeds a love for the game. I speak to a lot of kids now as well — 18-19 year olds. I try to advise them and it’s something I’d look into in the future. I’ve spoken to different agents about potentially working with them. I obviously had a bad experience, but I try to steer young kids now away from those experiences and try to help them if I can.

“I hear a lot of stories about kids coming back and they just weren’t ready. Maybe it is a bit of a thing that players are looking to stay in Ireland, finish their Leaving Cert and get a bit of an education, and having a bit more maturity going over later on.”

Now 30, Fitzgerald currently balances life as a footballer with a job at leading medical technology company Siemens, as well as undertaking an engineering degree.

“They’ve supported me with that and some of the senior managers there are League of Ireland fans themselves, so they understand the hectic lifestyle I lead, needing to get time off work, or do I need to go to Finn Harps away and things like that.

I was full-time for a few years and again talking about being disillusioned, I never really had a full-time job. You need two years of experience [at Siemens] to get into the company. They had an apprenticeship programme that gave someone like me that had no experience an opportunity, back in the recession when things were tight and jobs were at a minimum.

“So they were trying to get people who didn’t have any skills. Since then, I went on to do another apprenticeship in engineering. So they’ve also put a pathway from not having a full-time job to career prospects of being an engineer. It’s been brilliant for me.”

He continues: “I’ve been around a few clubs and a lot of players have asked advice on full-time football. It’s a brilliant job at the end of the day, but I always encourage people to look at doing an evening course education-wise, because you’ll earn good money over here, but it might not be enough, like people in England, who can go on and live healthy lifestyles after football. So I’m encouraging kids to get an education and think about further on in life.”

Gavan Casey is joined by Murray Kinsella and Sean Farrell for a review of the 2018/19 season, and cast an eye forward to next year and the Rugby World Cup in Japan.:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Paul Fennessy

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