Ireland v South Africa: Luke Fitzgerald raring to go after injury hell
In his teenage years Luke Fitzgerald was best known as the son of former Irish international prop Des.
But now the younger Fitzgerald has emerged as an Irish international in his own right.
He was just about out of nappies when his father was propping for Ireland against Australia in an unforgettable World Cup quarter-final at Lansdowne Road in 1991.
Now fully recovered from a serious knee injury that kept him out for most of last season he speaks with boyish enthusiasm about the prospect of facing World champions South Africa today.
“I cannot tell you how relieved I am to be back playing again,” he admitted.
“It was only when I was out for the best part of a season after being injured against Australia that I realised just how much I loved the sport.
“It’s the only thing I really wanted to do from I was five or six years old.
“I dabbled with both gaelic and soccer but rugby was always the one for me.
“I appreciated rugby all the more during my period of rehabilitation and the prospect of getting back made me work all the harder as I was on my own a lot.
“As a player you always want to get back to the standard you have set yourself.
“It’s funny when you work hard and set yourself goals how things just seem to fall into place.”
Fitzgerald’s perseverance and dedication has paid handsome dividends and now he’s keeping his fingers crossed that Ireland can maintain their recent run of form against the current World champions.
“We’re under no illusions about the task that faces us, but we’ve all worked tremendously hard and hopefully we’ll be rewarded with the right result,” he said.
“The World Cup in New Zealand is just 10 months away so all games in the build up are crucially important.”
Fitzgerald, a regular with both Ireland and Leinster, made a welcome return to the provincial squad in August after recovering from his injury, which was sustained last autumn.
He sustained a hip injury while playing with Leinster against Saracans in the Heineken Cup earlier in the season but suffered no lasting effects.
“I was just 18 when I first played for Leinster and I wouldn’t have changed it for all the world,” he stated.
“It was daunting enough at the start as here I was playing with all these guys that I had seen playing for Ireland, men like Shane Horgan and Brian O’Driscoll.
“But you soon get over the awe factor as the reality is that you are competing for a position with these guys week in week out.
“Once I got over the starstruck bit I really enjoyed it and apart from the occasional injury things continue to go from strength to strength,” he said.
Perhaps it’s just as well, he says, as there is no plan B on his list of career options.
Initially he started out doing an arts degree in University College Dublin more as cover than anything else.
But once the deal was signed with Leinster he reversed out of college at speed.
Wisely he has now resumed his studies two nights a week with a view to obtaining a degree in Business Studies.
But come this afternoon he’s hoping to get back to the business that he does best — scoring tries.