Those of us fortunate enough to enter Trinity in 1979 were met at an early session by a large moustached youth in a Munster school’s jersey. Although we weren’t to know it at the time, we would spend a considerable amount of time with him on and off the pitch during the next few years and many subsequent entertaining reunions.
Fitzy was an immensely likeable and admirable character and a natural leader on and off the pitch. He was self confident (perhaps that’s an understatement!) but was always ready to laugh at himself and was well able to take the huge amount of slagging that came his way. He was at the centre of rugby and social activities throughout his time in college. He was fiercely proud of his Munster and Limerick heritage, enduring much good humoured banter with the rest of us on this particular subject. He was a very, very good rugby player! We know this because he told us so himself!!
Fitzy had played second row for the Munster schools, but apparently according to himself, should have been number 8! He played on the under 19s at number 8, and as soon as the McCorry Cup finished was installed as captain and number 8 on the freshers and led them to their most successful season in many years. He went straight into the firsts at flanker the following year and gained his colours, contributing strongly in Trinity’s 9-3 victory. Although he lost his place the following year, he captained the seconds, the highlight of the season being a last minute penalty from the 10 metre line to win a cup match by a point. By 10 o’clock that night, it appeared that the penalty had been from his own 10 metre line, into a strong wind with a mis-shapen, heavy leather ball!
He was pack leader for the 1sts the following year and had a fine season personally, although the team’s results weren’t so successful. One of his proudest moments came when one of our scheduled opponents withdrew from a match and he managed to arrange a fixture with his beloved Shannon instead – Trinity’s first ever match against them. The rest of us were less keen as Shannon had a fearsome reputation at the time. We went to Thomond Park in some trepidation to play, Killian Egan went off after about 20 mins & Fergus Dunlea went to scrum half. At half time we were losing slightly which wasn’t cutting the mustard with Fitzy who instructed us to start a fight! As you might imagine, we were kind of keen to get away in one piece & an honourable loss would have been very satisfactory to most of us, especially as we only had 14. Anyway Fitzy and their number 8 had a big scrap at the next lineout and after that was sorted out, a stray boot (it might have been Fitzy’s) hoofed the same guy in the back at the next ruck and all hell broke loose. We were all standing cowering behind the ref as the Shannon team approached us threateningly. Brendan Foley towered over the whole lot of them pointing at us and shouting ‘is dat what dey teach you in college?’ We were saying, ‘no no – he learnt it here; he’s one of you!!’ We lost, of course but in Fitzy’s mind he had restored honour in the DUFC jersey! Dave McGrath who had to move from flanker to the wing that day said that he felt totally exposed out on the wing but at least he was safer than being anywhere near Fitzy!
Obviously, Fitzy went on to have a terrific career with London Irish, both on and off the field. He entertained many a former team-mate when our children played in the London Irish mini-rugby festival over the years and was always one of the characters you would be most pleased to see. When news broke of his death on Friday (a huge surprise to many of us) it precipitated a most exceptional amount of correspondence among his peers – the level of upset and shock being a very good indicator of what an extraordinary and loved character he was. Truly a fantastic Trinity man, Munster man, London Irish man, rugby man and great friend. His death will leave a big hole every time we get together!
Lastly, one of Dave’s great qualities was telling stories. The truth would quickly become an irrelevance as the story gained traction and subsequently many sayings were attributed to him, some of which may have been entirely true. He definitely claimed ‘once I kicked a ball so high…. it hit a bird’. He claimed in first year that in a visit home to his family that he had sat down to a proper feed of shpudsh (sic) – ‘would ou believe, I ate forty two potato & 2 pound of butter!’ (At a colours match 20 years later, we actually arranged for that very meal to be served to him, but it seemed that 20 years in London had taken some of his appetite as he failed woefully to clear his plate!). In his final year, he announced to an astonished freshers team that if they lost the freshers colours to UCD the following day that ‘they will come into the Lecky and break the place up and they will laugh at ‘ou and their girlfriends will laugh at ‘ou and they won’t give a flying f***’. Whether it was fear of this happening, or fear of having to face him after a loss, the freshers duly thumped their opponents soundly the following day.
Undoubtedly, Dave Fitzgerald was one of the most entertaining, charismatic characters of our time in Trinity. He was a great friend to us and remained so after college. He was a man who lived and played with his heart on his sleeve, and a man you would want to have on your team in any rugby match. Hopefully Ireland will thrash England this weekend (even if it’s only by a single point) as that is something he will surely enjoy wherever he is!
There is an isle
A bonny isle
Stands proudly from…
Stands proudly from the sea
And dearer far
Than all this world
Is that dear isle …
Is that dear isle to me …..