Dr Crokes go into this weekend’s All-Ireland semi-final with Mullinalaghta as heavy favourites to overcome the Longford minnows who have shocked the GAA world in getting this far.
The tiny Longford half-parish are viewed as perennial underdogs, however, Fionn Fitzgerald has looked at their track record and believes that they’re a very strong team who cannot be underestimated.
“Everyone has been speaking about Mullinalaghta in the last couple of months. My only way of coming to the conclusion, that maybe they beat Kilmacud Crokes and they’re considered a bigger club and they’re from Dublin, maybe because of Dublin’s dominance at intercounty and that whole theme maybe.” Fitzgerald said.
“But if you look their track record, and we’ve looked at them quite a bit over the last while, they’re a very strong team. They won three county finals in a row. They’ve been competing very strongly in Leinster. They lost to Vincent’s the first year, they ran them very close. Then they lost to St Loman’s by a point. This year they’ve beaten to Rhode, Éire Óg and then Kilmacud on the way. There’s no fluke in that.
“They’re very well organised. This is not small talk, the semi-finals are always of a very high standard. I don’t think you’ve ever seen one-sided club games at this stage. Maybe sometimes in a provincial game, but at this stage, the semi-finals are always intense, close-fought games that normally go right down to the wire.”
Despite being heavily favoured, however, the Kerry club’s record in semi-finals isn’t great having lost at this stage in three consecutive years to Castlebar, Crossmaglen and Ballymun Kickhams respectively.
They broke that duck in 2017 when they finally captured the club’s second All-Ireland club championship and defender, Fionn Fitzgerald, is adamant that the hunger is still there despite having reached the top of the mountain.
“Yeah, it’s not a particularly good record. It’s a 25 per cent record. It’s only you saying it now, I hadn’t really thought about it.” Fitzgerald said.
“We’ve been knocking on the door a good few years. If we hadn’t won the All-Ireland, we would have considered it [that record] a major letdown or a major failure on our part, to an extent.
“Now we’re in the situation where we’ve won one. We experienced the high of that and the massive sense of achievement. Nothing lasts forever, you park that and you move on. No one will ever take that away from us but we’re just as eager and as hungry to keep going now.
“You just want to grasp every opportunity that you can.”
The Kerry kingpins will be led into battle by Pat O’Shea, a fierce club man who captained the side to their maiden All-Ireland title in 1992, however, O’Shea is known more for his foray into senior inter-county management having won an All-Ireland with Kerry in 2007.
Fitzgerald believes O’Shea has been central to the Kerry club’s success and has put a backroom team in place that makes the dressing room a comfortable place to be in.
“He has a great backroom team. He brought in the likes of Luke Quinn who’s a player, who stepped away with injury last year and he’s been a massive addition. He’s doing a good bit of coaching with Pat and doing the physical conditioning of the team. He’s been brilliant because he’s been integrating all that.
“Between Pat who has us well coached and who’s been involved with us for years and years really, it’s a real club thing, the management team, and it’s a really comfortable place to be. To be surrounded by good people in the management team and by good players. Pat is central to all of that.”