Darragh Fitzgibbon: The pride of Charleville, but he knows nothing about it 6 months ago

Darragh Fitzgibbon: The pride of Charleville, but he knows nothing about it

Charleville doesn't even remember the last time it had a Cork senior, never mind an All-Star.

And if you asked about hurling in Charleville, even the most obsessed Cork hurling person would have told you they don't remember much. Junior and intermediate for most of their lives, they were always the also-rans and never the trail-blazers.

That was the reputation the club had around Cork and that was all they knew themselves.

Surrounded by hurling strongholds punching above their weight like little Newtownshandrum, there was never too much to say about big Charleville who lived in the shadow of Newtown winning club All-Irelands.

They're getting in on the conversation these days though.

Maybe it was jealousy that drove them on, maybe they were inspired by their neighbours but whatever it was, it steered them in the right direction. Charleville got down to grassroots, former club secretary and underage coach Tadhg O'Connell tells us, and that made all the difference.

"We put a lot of work in at underage level, there was a massive push to try and get every youngster in Charleville wanting to hurl. This work is still ongoing here, and it's great to see it paying off over the last few years," he said.

There's proof of it paying off in Darragh Fitzgibbon.

"I suppose, the journey of a player like Darragh Fitzgibbon really reflects the journey we've been on and the journey we're still on."

There are eleven men of Fitzgibbon's age-group on the Charleville senior team now.

But lets go back to the modest beginnings first.

Back in 2011, Darragh Fitzgibbon was only 14 years of age and Charleville were a lowly junior club. They won the junior championship that year and that was the start of it.

He played no part in that but he and lads his age had Charleville men to look up to now, they had a club team to be proud of and above all they had a future above junior hurling to aim for.

That's exactly what Fitzgibbon and co. did, the recently crowned All-Star summing up the hard work and dedication that drove them forward.

"He'd be out pucking the whole time. He's always down at that hurling field with the other young lads, pucking balls off the wall, hitting over points, working on their touch and on their striking," said O'Connell.

"They got to a lot of finals his team, they didn't win them all, but they were competing and the team is benefiting from that now."

Fitzgibbon always stood out.

"He was one of the most athletic young lads I've ever seen. From a young age he had more speed and fitness than the rest. He stayed working hard on that and he still does now. He loves his hurling and he's so dedicated to it, both for Charleville and for Cork."

The son of Mossy and Ita, a cousin of Limerick's Richie English, he was never going to escape it.

"He had the hurling from both sides. His father Mossy Fitzgibbon played for Cork down through the years and he was a fine hurler with Milford. His mother Ita O'Keeffe is form Limerick and she played camogie there."

Hurling was in Fitzgibbon's hands and he was always going to be a star for Charleville.

The club took a while to find their feet at intermediate level but they finally did in 2015. Take it as no coincidence that 2015 was the first year an 18-year-old Darragh Fitzgibbon joined the panel.

They cruised to intermediate final glory over Dripsey, young Fitzgibbon scoring 1-9 (1-6 from play) in the final. Charleville were going places and Darragh Fitzgibbon and co. were taking them there.

Fast forward to summer 2018 and Darragh Fitz is hurling better stuff than every other under-21 in the country.

Every single person who's ever held a hurl in Cork will be able to tell you all about him and all over the country too. They know he's from Charleville too because they'd see the town written under his name every time they flipped a match programme to check who Cork's number eight was from that Munster first round game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh when he ripped Clare assunder.

They'd see Charleville in brackets behind his name every time the television would show off the number of points he'd scored from midfield in this game or that one and they'd hear Charleville mentioned when he was picking up a man-of-the-match award afterwards.

And it's not just in Cork that they've televisions and match programmes.

Eventually, Cork's year came to a disappointing end when they went out after extra-time against Limerick in the semi-final, though the irrepressible midfielder was again one of their best performers, ending his day with four from play.

He came straight back in with Charleville. Straight down to business.

"Darragh is such a lovely, unassuming young fella. He probably doesn't know how much his displays in the Cork jersey means to the people of Charleville...He's one of those lads, he's just so modest and when he came back in with the club after the Cork run, it was like he'd never left. The same quiet, diligent chap" said O'Connell.

He may have been denied in the red of Cork but he wasn't to be in the red of Charleville. His five points in a one point county final win over Courcey Rovers saw his club take the premier Intermediate crown and ensures their senior status for next year, for the first time since 1952.

The good times kept on coming for the man who'd worked so hard for them. He was named an All-Star hurler last Friday night, becoming Charleville's first ever All-Star.

Better still, he left the Lixnaw pitch to a standing ovation the very next day when he scored six from play in the Munster club semi-final, his manager and idol Ben O'Connor allowing the Charleville faithful show their adulation for their young trooper by calling him ashore when he had the job done and the game won.

 "We're all so delighted for him because he's just so down to earth.  said O'Connell.

"He's one of those lads, he's just so modest. For such a young lad, none of the praise, and not even an All-Star, you know it won't go to his head because he's just so level-headed."

But Charleville know what a gem they have on their hands.

"Nobody else can do what he does, and he makes it look so easy."

Next up is a Munster intermediate final against Feakle and it would take a brave man to bet against Fitzgibbon showing the Clare boys a clean pair of Adidas boots.

No matter what way it goes, there's plenty to talk about in Charleville nowadays anyway.