As the oldest of the three premier goalkeepers in Paul Revington’s extended Irish men’s squad, getting selected for the European championships has been part of a growing experience for Dave Fitzgerald.
At 24, he is the elder statesman to David Harte and Iain Walker but while the Monkstown man has bided his time for a major tournament call-up, he did not see it as being overtaken by younger contenders.
Fitzgerald first joined the Irish setup three years ago when Mark Ruddle and Gareth Lennox were also in the queue but Harte and Walker, both just out of their teens, were fast establishing themselves as the top pair. But the standards they set were a spur and he did enough to earn his debut against France in Cookstown in July 2010.
Goalkeeping caps, especially with Harte around, are hard to come by with a further four added since then but big performances against Egypt – both in capped and uncapped games – helped his cause no end and a Champions Challenge II and INSEP Five Nations’ gold medal have followed in quick succession.
And he is quick to pay tribute to his rivals – but allies – for the goalkeeping smock.
“It was about biding my time, keeping the head down and hopefully letting my hockey do the talking. There’s a great bond between the three of us and its great having it that way, pushing each other the whole time; no one’s comfortable in their position. There are no egos involved.
“If you’re going to be number two, you want to be number two to the best goalkeeper in the world. That’s where Dave [Harte] is now.”
He cites Nigel Henderson and Stephen Barry as big influences in recent times to helping him reach this point but any perceived delay in reaching this level could owe a lot to his dual concerns as a teenager.
A more than decent footballer, he previously played in some of the best soccer leagues in the country, lining out for St Joseph’s Boys DDSL Premier sides – a year above the likes of Irish internationals Andy Keogh and Paul McShane.
He also spent a season with Ardmore Rovers, a club with strong links to Charlton. It made deciding between the two sports was a tough one.
“When I was younger, I don’t think hockey wasn’t as big a focus until I was 17 or 18,” he said. “But from the first time I got into the Monkstown team, I wanted to play for Ireland. I started taking it a lot more seriously, working with Nidger and Bogger, it was always a goal.
“It was a tough decision at the time; I was 16, playing for Ardmore. Charlton had scouts over the whole time and a couple of us went over, saw the setup over there and that was cool.
“But with the Leinster U-18 training on Sundays and soccer games on the same day, it was tough but I really enjoyed that interprovincials. At that point, I was coming into the Monkstown team and I saw hockey really progressing so I decided it was the one.”
One issue for such a progression in both sports, he says, was his height. Playing central midfield or in the hockey goal, it was a situation which remedied itself in jig-time and he has continued a more metaphorical growth ever since.
“[Playing either to a high level] was a goal but the problem was I was tiny until I was 17 – I was 5’5’’ until I sprouted [he’s now well in excess of six foot]. It is always a thing you think about but I’m pretty happy with my choice, I’m enjoying my hockey and can’t wait to go to the Europeans.
“It’s my first major event so obviously ecstatic to be included and I can’t wait to get out there.”
** Ireland play their first European Championship match on Sunday, August 21 in Monchengladbach at 9am (Irish time) against reigning champions England.
** Picture credits: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE