Dublin defender Fitzsimons is a student of the game
By John Harrington
As befits someone who’s in his final year of studying medicine in UCD, Dublin defender Michael Fitzsimons is an analytical sort.
It’s an aspect of his personality that also informs the way he approaches Gaelic Football.
He doesn’t just rely on instinct as a corner-back, he also makes a concerted effort to study his opponent in order to get whatever sort of edge he can.
“Yeah, definitely,” said Fitzsimons. “Corner-back is one of those positions where you play different types of forwards so you have to recognise their traits, what they do, their movements, stuff like that.
“And what you do wrong in games, there's a lot of analysis in that because obviously your the last line of defence and any small mistake can have quite significant set-backs.
“So you'd look at that and see how you can fine-tune things. I'd sort of enjoy that aspect of it.”
He doesn’t just forensically analyse his opponents, he also reviews his own game in minute detail with the help of video analysis in order to identify areas he can improve on.
“Yeah, video analysis,” said Fitzsimons. “And before all that was available you'd just have to reflect on games to see what you did wrong and maybe set a few goals for other games, I suppose.
“That was something I did when I was young enough and that probably helped me to get a bit of a drive and a little bit of an extra edge.”
He does his homework before and after matches, but once the ball is thrown-in Fitzsimons trusts his instincts rather than risk suffering paralysis by in-game analysis.
As a corner-back you can’t afford to second-guess yourself, because if you’re not fully committed to every action then chances are you’ll be skinned by the corner-forward.
“If you doubt yourself a bit or if you don't go at the ball then you'll end up getting caught out in front,” said Fitzsimons.
“And if you go too hard you'll get caught behind. So, yeah, you have to trust what you're doing.
“That's one of the difficult things if you're seeking perfection, you have to sometimes add a bit of perspective and realise that if your man scores or wins a ball and sets it up, then it's not the be all and end all.
“In the past you might get caught up in games beating yourself up over small things that in the grand scheme of things aren't that important.
“So, like, once you can add a bit of perspective then it's easier not to get your confidence too bashed.”
That can be easier said than done, because if a corner-back makes a mistake it quite often has dire consequences.
And if you’re at fault for the concession of a potentially decisive goal in a match, clearing your senses and resetting your goals must be quite a mental challenge.
“You have to take a breath, maybe,” said Fitzsimons. “It's a cliche, but you really do have to just focus on the next ball. Sometimes you have team-mates around you that will give you a shout if they see you have drifted a bit.
“But, yeah, that can happen, be it a slip or you feel a referee...sometimes you feel you've bene hard done by a referee's decision and that can be the worst because you get really annoyed by them.
“But it is hard, and that's one of the challenges and things you analyse after a game - did I get sucked in to being negative about something that happened two plays previously.
“It's one of the challenges to work on.”
It’s a testament to Fitzsimons’ man-marking skills that Dublin usually detail him to mark the opposition’s most dangerous inside forward.
For this Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC Group Stage Quarter-Final against Donegal that would normally mean the considerable challenge of limiting the influence of Patrick McBrearty.
Unfortunately for Donegal their sharpshooter has been ruled out of the rest of the season with a ruptured cruciate ligament.
Fitzsimons isn’t about to pretend his absence isn’t a massive loss for their opponents, but he’s still wary of the attacking threat they will pose.
“Yeah, a big loss,” he said. “A great player, and just so accurate from anywhere inside the '45. So, yeah, it's tough on them but they have some great new young players and some great forwards to step up and will be confident.
“It looks like they've changed and evolved and added new players. Eoin Ban Gallagher, Jamie Brennan, new lads coming through like that.
“And a few lads who have come back from years away and stuff like that which has obviously been a boost. MacNiallais and McLoone were away for a bit.
“It should be good, I'm looking forward to it.”