22 Jan 2022

Fitzer goes for the good bits as he bows out

It was never likely Peter Fitzpatrick was going to mention, never mind highlight, the downside of his near-three years in charge of the Louth senior side. Who would?

It was never likely Peter Fitzpatrick was going to mention, never mind highlight, the downside of his near-three years in charge of the Louth senior side. Who would?

The lengthy statement accompanying his decision to step down listed the wins, in junior as well as senior, and, as expected, there was reference to that Leinster senior final of two years ago, without doubt the most tumultuous of all the matches for which he had charge. “We won, but didn’t get the medals.” he said.

Surprisingly, Fitzer regarded his side retaining Division Two status in this year’s league as one of the highlights. Perhaps the way he looks at it, whoever succeeds him is starting in a good place and not in the pits. The seven-match campaign produced two wins and two draws, the last of the wins coming in a relegation match with Meath. The points competition aside, there was just one other win this year - in the Championship first round match with Westmeath.

In 2011, enough points were gathered to gain promotion from Division Three, but the Championship was a real downer, a first-ever defeat by Carlow followed by a rout by Meath in the All-Ireland qualifiers.

The opposite was the case the previous year, a good run in the knock-out, culminating in an appearance in the final – the qualifier afterwards, against Dublin, was always likely to be an impossibility - coming after a poor league campaign.

That 2010 campaign was Fitzpatrick’s first in charge. Soon after it had ended, Peter McDonnell, who had succeeded Joe Kernan as Armagh manager, was drafted into the management team, joining Gerry Cumiskey and the man who had recommended McDonnell, Martin McQuillan, as selectors. And as that year’s Championship run gained momentum - the defeat of Kildare at Navan fitting comfortably in the tremendous bracket - Brian McEniff, an All-Ireland-winning manager, also came on board. Fitzpatrick had now got serious back-up.

McDonnell opted out last year, fellow Armaghman McQuillan going with him. But McEniff stayed on, and was joined this year by another to experience All-Ireland day delight, former Dublin goalkeeper, John O’Leary.

Fitzpatrick mentioned the management team in his statement, thanking them “for their commitment”. He could have been more laudatory and perhaps named a few names. McDonnell brought much-needed know-how to the set-up, and when there was a danger of things going overboard following the 2010 semi-final win over Westmeath, McEniff peppered the place with calm.

“You’ve won nothing yet,” he told the players in the Croke Park dressing room, and would surely have loved to extend the same message to the kissing, hugging and handshaking hoards outside.

The players who’ve been regulars over the past few years speak highly of Peter McDonnell; those who are likely to continue in that role wouldn’t, it seems, be adverse to him taking over.

While the question has been asked quite often over the past week or so: ‘Who would want the job’, the situation is not as bad as a Leinster Championship hiding by Dublin and an All-Ireland Qualifier defeat to Westmeath would suggest.

The batch of young bloods in the county has quality, even if some of them are currently in foreign lands. Jim McEneaney, Shane O’Hanlon, James Califf, Patrick Reilly, Eoin O’Connor and Liam Shevlin are all six-footers and can play a bit; the Grimes boys from Glen Emmets have talent, if not much luck with injuries. And when they come home to help Cooley Kickhams in the Championship knock-out stages, the two Brians, White and Donnelly, might be persuaded to stay.

There’s more: they say Gary O’Hare, the young Na Piarsaigh player, has prospects, and elsewhere throughout the county there are footballers who want to wear the red jersey. To go on, it was only the year before last when John O’Brien, another living away, was short-headed for an All-Star. Playing to a clearly-defined plan and with spirit, a team could be pieced together to make us start believing again.

Peter Fitzpatrick is not leaving the game empty-handed. Early last year he wore the red jersey as he dipped his toe in the pool of politics for the first time, and has now got letters after his name. This allows him to play, as his statement says, “a different public role, but still serving the people of Louth”. He’s wished well.

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