World Cup with Ireland is ‘top of the pile’ for Luke Fitzgerald

EVEN THE BRIEFEST of conversations with Luke Fitzgerald provides a window into his positive, focused mindset.

The Leinster back is in the midst of his latest comeback from injury and has started the province’s four most recent fixtures, the latter three at outside centre.

At 27, Fitzgerald believes he could be entering his prime as a player, as long as his current arc of improvement in terms of fitness continues. A place in Ireland’s World Cup squad next year is his primary motivator in ensuring that happens.

The former Blackrock College student underwent surgery on his groin and abs in June, and though his return to playing suffered the occasional setback, there is cautious optimism around his current run of games.

Fitzgerald himself feels in a good place physically and rates his performances as “pretty solid” in the last month or so.

“I still have a bit of room there to catch up on guys who’ve had a big pre-season and that, so this next month is really, really important for me in terms of getting the physical aspect fully right, getting rid of this small, niggly injury that I’ve been dealing with for a very long time,” says Fitzgerald.

“That will give me the best opportunity to be fit and get selected. We’re coming to that Six Nations period, so I’m looking to play well in the upcoming games, if I’m involved, and put myself at least in with a shout to get into that national squad.”

Fitzgerald remains highly-rated by Ireland coach Joe Schmidt. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It’s an unprompted mention of Joe Schmidt’s Ireland group, but there is no arrogance in Fitzgerald’s words. Having won 27 international caps, toured with the Lions and possessing the knowledge that Schmidt is a major fan, why would Fitzgerald not be focused on an Ireland return?

The 2015 Six Nations kicks off in less than six weeks, a tournament Fitzgerald intends on being involved in. He was in Carton House last week as the Ireland squad convened for their winter camp, although his visit was shortened due to provincial commitments.

“Yeah, I was down for a day,” says Fitzgerald, “just for the Monday because I was involved in the Munster game. It was great to feel like I was within touching distance of getting back in, so it was a nice feeling.”

Looking further ahead, Fitzgerald has the 2015 World Cup in his sights:

“The stepping stones to that are this next month and the Six Nations, trying to get involved in those games. It’s a pressurised couple of months, but ones that I’m really looking forward to.

“I’m going to make some pretty big sacrifices in different areas to make sure that the rugby goes well in the next period.”

Fitzgerald looks sharper with each passing game. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Having had to fight back from serious knee and neck injuries, among other ailments, in recent years, Fitzgerald has had to be extremely ‘goal-orientated’.

His work with sports psychologist Enda McNulty has helped greatly, but Fitzgerald points out that he has functioned this way since his youth.

“I think for me, I’ve always been a goal setter. I was Enda’s first guy actually! I kind of got this from my dad really – anything you write down on paper is a contract with yourself, you can’t get out of it.

“You always want to control the controllables. I feel like I’m coming into a good period now. I’m 27 years old and hopefully coming into my prime. Once I get back to 100% fitness, I reckon it’s all there in front of me.”

Matt O’Connor and Joe Schmidt top the pile of those hoping Fitzgerald’s words become reality.

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