PROFILES on county GAA websites are rarely the place for majorly interesting insight into the minds of current intercounty stars and yet sometimes a line jumps out as more meaningful than usual.
One of the questions asked of the Cork hurlers is to mention what they consider the most important skill in the game.
The vast majority opt for some form of first touch, a few reference fielding or catching (Anthony Nash refers to every skill having its own importance which is another day’s work) and yet one player goes for something different.
Darragh Fitzgibbon’s contribution? Speed!
Honestly, it could hardly have been anything else from a player who’s lighting up this new Munster championship with the sort of electric runs down the middle of fields that bring gasps from supporters and pundits.
We suspected this run of games might make a breakthrough star of someone and Fitzgibbon is going about exactly the sort of progression from potential to serious influencer of Munster championship games that normally might take a few summers but he’s condensed into a few weeks.
Fitzgibbon has almost redefined the midfield role here on this Cork team in the space of an early summer and if there were glimpses last year of what pace and running power can achieve, here we’re getting full-on proof of what happens when you take the most sought-after attribute in the game of hurling right now (speed) and mix the most significant addition any player can bring to a team (scores).
Darragh Fitzgibbon is what happens and it’s been fairly remarkable to see so far.
There are various things going on here. Cork hasn’t had a scoring threat like this from midfield forever really – apart from the odd burst of a point here and two points there – and you’re talking the days of Tom Kenny and Jerry O’Connor, who scored 0-5 between them in the 2005 All-Ireland final remember, since Cork had this mix of line breaks and scores.
It’s a position with that kind of possibility open to the right player in the right team, where man-marking can be casual and spaces within striking range of goal can be located if a player is clever enough.
David Burke nabbed 0-4 in the All-Ireland final for Galway last year.
At a time where Cork have lost the Alan Cadogan scoring ability, every extra point that can be added to Patrick Horgan’s consistent totals is welcome and the ability to add three or four points from the midfield/half-back zones on the field is seriously a game changer.
Fitzgibbon chipped in three scores from play in the relegation play-off with Waterford, three more against Clare in round one and another four points last weekend.
The scores have originated from all sorts of positions and areas on the field too.
The four last weekend were split two off his left and two off his right, two on the run and two from standing/ turning (though the late almost-winner was more jumping with the sheer power put into it).
Point one was a Limerick puckout intercepted by an aggressive step forward into space, a short burst and sent over on the move from the left wing.
For point two Fitzgibbon drifted into space on the right side of midfield for Anthony Nash to hit, he could afford a little drop and still had the afterburners to eat up the ground from his own half-back area to the opposition 45 and point under pressure from behind and in front.
Point three, he drifted into space around midfield as Cork chased the game, took a short 20-metre stick-pass and turned to rattle over first time from around midfield.
Point four, he again managed to make himself completely free at a time in the game most players couldn’t work an inch of space to take a handpass from Bill Cooper to turn and absolutely bang the ball between the posts from way out on the left for about the least tentative matchwinning attempt you’ll ever see.
It’s fair to say Fitzgibbon committed to the shot and he was the nearest Cork player to Seamus Harnedy for that last-second chance as well, having managed, somehow, to work himself free for a little pop-back.
The Clare game had similar scores, again with this ability to find spaces or make spaces with pure running power and make not really sure thing situations seem quite routine.
Point one, Fitzgibbon picked up a loose ball way back in his own half-back line with three Clare players closing in from the side at a point where if you were to freeze the play there’s very little argument to be made for a potential scoring chance to be created.
He simply opened up, reached top speed within a few strides to tear away from any chasers over a 40- or 50-metre run, step onto his right side a little and belted it over while travelling at proper pace.
Point two, again he took a short handpass from Colm Spillane inside his own half, turned and shot off down the centre of the field with nobody able to keep up and pointed on the run.
Point three, took handpass on run, lost chaser and a tidy finish.
Actually Fitzgibbon didn’t have to break tackles or run into bodies all that often while impacting the game. He looked for spaces to receive ball.
He ran into spaces and left anybody chasing him completely for dead.
It was signposted in the Kilkenny league opening night game, where Fitzgibbon performed a one-two and finish out on the left wing with such conviction and blinding running power that it seemed to announce himself on the stage as someone who was stepping up to do this sort of thing now.
The game is going into overdrive with athleticism and the velocity everything happens at and players who have that turbo option are priceless.
Mark Coleman showed it with that stunning score last week, the nerve and energy of youth combined with the legs and skills.
Darragh Fitzgibbon is bringing things to another level right now.