FORMER Munster and Ireland prop Paul McCarthy was deeply saddened at the passing of former Munster CEO Garrett Fitzgerald.
McCarthy was one of the players on the Munster team who famously beat Australia at Musgrave Park in 1999 with Fitzgerald as head coach.
It was the young Cork prop’s first time playing at loosehead at that level and he remembers the words Fitzgerald spoke to him ahead of the game.
Australia had Dan Crowley and Ewan McKenzie as their tightheads on that tour and in typical fashion, Fitzgerald talked up his own man.
“Macker, I don’t think they’re the best tightheads in the world, I think you can get at them and frustrate them’ Garrett said to me a couple of days before the game,” says McCarthy.
“And he was right, we got a pushover try out and we did frustrate them.”
Frustrating the Australians was part of the game plan.
“Garrett reckoned that if we were within three or four points at half time that they would get frustrated and that’s the way the game went.
“I supposed he showed his planning abilities for Munster with that game. No team had been analysed back then the way Garrett had analysed Australia. He came over to me after the game and said ‘Told ya Macker they weren’t the best.’”
That win was just part of the legacy that Garrett Fitzgerald leaves behind.
He served as Munster Rugby CEO from 1999 to June of 2019, the longest-serving provincial chief executive in Irish rugby and guided the club to where it is now.
Over that time he oversaw the province’s rise in the professional era that produced some of the most memorable days in Irish sport and a host of world-class players for the national side.
During that era Munster won three Celtic Leagues and two European Championships and it became the rule for the Reds to make the knockout stages of European rather than the exception.
As a forwards coach with Munster from 2002 until 2013 McCarthy met the Munster CEO on a daily basis and McCarthy says that it was his humility that made Fitzgerald stand out.
“It was never about Garrett, it was always Munster Rugby, and Munster people. He was just a humble man.
“The game against Australia showed what he was capable of as an organiser. He got our preparation from a technical and physical side spot on.
"That was the way he operated. He was never one to get in a flap about things.
If it needed to be done he found a way to do it. Mind you he if he said it once, he said it 100 times. ‘Told ya Macker they weren’t the best.’
“One of the things that always stood out was Garrett’s family values and that is something he brought into the whole Munster set up.
“He was a very focused and a very calm sort of man, the only time I ever saw him emotional was after we won the European Cup in 2006. He was a great friend to rugby and a great friend to anybody who worked with him, he’ll be sadly missed.”
Hailing from Knockraha in county Cork, Fitzgerald enjoyed early rugby success as a student at Christian Brothers College, Cork, where he won a Munster Schools Senior Cup medal in the 1970s.
But it was as Munster’s first CEO that he really made his mark.
During Garrett’s era, Munster changed their crest to the current one, redeveloped Musgrave Park and Thomond Park and set up one training centre at the High Performance Centre in the University of Limerick.
As well as that they attracted some of the biggest names in rugby to play with the province including Christian Cullen, John Langford, Jim Williams and Doug Howlett.
Probably the most lasting legacy of all will be the strong identity and unique culture of a ‘family of players’ that Garrett started with that famous 22-19 over then world champions Australia.
Most recently the late he was deservedly honoured by the Federation of Irish Sport for his outstanding contribution to sport.
He is survived by his wife Aine, daughter Megan and sons Jamie and Michael.
Ar dheis lamh Dé go bhfuill a anam.