Donall Farmer/INPHO
True Blue

Winning a junior All-Ireland in '08, swapping jerseys with Owen Mulligan and life in the corner

Dublin defender Michael Fitzsimons has had an interesting career path to date.

AFTER HIS HEROICS in last year’s All-Ireland final replay, Michael Fitzsimons is enjoying his most prolonged run in the Dublin team under Jim Gavin.

He’s started every single league and championship game since picking up man-of-the-match in last October’s victory over Mayo. Jack McCarron took David Byrne for 1-9 in Monaghan’s league defeat to Dublin last April, but he enjoyed no such luck under the watchful eye of Fitzsimons on Saturday night.

McCarron was held scoreless and had little impact on the game, although the one-sided nature of the contest didn’t help.

“It’s a battle of minds, you’re trying to limit your man,” says Fitzsimons as he explains his role on the last line of the Dublin defence.

“I enjoy it, it’s a good challenge. Some people get put in there but they want to go back out the field. If you’re fortunate, you get to mark top forwards as well.”

He wasn’t a player who was singled out as a potential multiple All-Ireland winner in his youth, but he reckons Dublin’s All-Ireland junior football success in 2008 helped him believe he was good enough for the inter-county game.

Launch of the 22nd Fexco Asian Gaelic Games Michael Fitzsimons of Dublin, lined out in Croke Park to officially launch the 22nd Annual Asian Gaelic Games sponsored by FEXCO. Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

Mick Deegan’s Dublin beat a Roscommon team featuring Frankie Dolan that day nine years ago, and four players who started for them saw some action against the Farney over the weekend - Fitzsimons, Darren Daly, Jonny Cooper and Eoghan O’Gara. A fifth player, Denis Bastick lined out at midfield and is still part of Jim Gavin’s panel.

“If someone shows a bit of trust in you it makes a massive difference,” says Fitzsimmons.

Deegan saw something in the Cuala defender and the medical student reckons it was one of the “few simple twists of fate” that benefited him during his career.

“I played full-back, and I was very, very light. People were thinking this lad is just going to get brushed over. Mick Deegan probably had people saying, ‘what are you doing?’ But he trusted me that I was going to be able to deal with the physical side of things at full-back and that obviously made a massive difference.

Mick Fitzsimons with Kieran Hughes Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“It gave me a taste that I could play at a higher level than just club football and then at UCD, Dave Billings showed a lot of belief in me as well. When you reflect then you know it can be any sort of fine margin and you mightn’t have gone this way and on this journey which has obviously been massively enjoyable.”

They don’t let him forget how far he’s come in Cuala either. He smiles when he recalls how Maurice O’Callaghan, father to county footballer Con and hurler Cian, still introduces him to the kids when he coaches at summer camps.

“(Maurice would be) telling your story and basically slating you, saying, ‘I never thought this lad would be any good!’ At times, you do get a chance. I know I’ve been very fortunate.”

Michael Fitzsimons and Owen Mulligan Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Two years after winning that junior title, Fitzsimons made the leap to senior level under the management of Pat Gilroy. He remembers facing Tyrone, Dublin’s upcoming opponents, twice during his formative years on the senior panel, and particularly going up against Owen Mulligan.

“He taught me a few lessons but we were fortunate enough to get out the other end (in 2010). I got to swap jerseys with him, so that was nice.

“I’d had a tough time on 2010 on Mulligan. So I’d done a good bit of work to get tighter and to get used to his movement. He was very nimble and very accurate. I just remember from the start (in 2011) that we had a lot of turnovers against them, were solid in defence and when we went forward I think everything was going over.

“Back then the games weren’t as high scoring but we hit 19 or 20 points and lads seemed to be on form. They were very accurate. It was an evening game as well so there was a good atmosphere. It was wet, under lights, it was a good buzz.”

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