William Fitzgerald, Limerick FC, pictured with the Irish U21 side
WING wizard William Fitzgerald kicks-off Limerick FC's new SSE Airtricity League First Division campaign this Friday boosted by his recent appearance with the Republic of Ireland U21 side.
Nineteen-year-old Fitzgerald, from Raheen, enjoyed an impressive season with Limerick in the Premier Division in 2018.
Although the league campaign ultimately ended in bitter disappointment for the ‘Blues’ with their relegation back into the First Division, Fitzgerald’s fine run of form didn’t go un-noticed with former Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny, who called him into his Rep of Ireland U21 home-based squad.
William Fitzgerald said: “I didn't expect to be name checked by Stephen Kenny when he was appointed U-21 manager in November. It was great, everyone at Limerick was delighted when myself and Karl (O’Sullivan) were called up into the squad.
“It is not too often that two Limerick-based players who were born in Limerick and raised here, who played their football all the way through at Limerick FC, so that was a pretty cool moment to be fair.
“Obviously we had the recent training camp with the U21s, I absolutely loved every single minute of it, getting to know the players, Stephen Kenny and his backroom staff.
“It was a great experience putting on the green jersey against the Republic of Ireland amateur side. There were a few of my family members up there to see it. It was pretty-short, but myself and Karl were delighted to get on the field.
“It was a good way to cap off the end of the training week.
“It would be absolutely great to get another call from Stephen Kenny in the future. He kept reminding everyone during the camp that this is would be the most games ever at U21 level in one calendar season, something like 11 games between now and the European Championships.
“He was saying everyone has to believe they are in with a chance. If you don't get a call up for a qualification game they could get a call for the Toulon Tournament in June or July, so it would be great to be involved again from a personal standpoint.”
Fitzgerald and his Limerick FC team mates kick-off their SSE Airtricity League First Division campaign against Longford Town at the Markets Field this Friday night, 7.45pm.
The ‘Blues’ find themselves in the First Division after suffering relegation from the top flight last November as a result of their relegation play-off defeat to Finn Harps.
Fitzgerald admitted the disappointment of dropping out of the league’s top flight hit him hard.
“It was disappointing the way the season ended, but I suppose the season that we had people saw it coming from the outside and unfortunately that probably crept into the inside and into the dressing room which was unfortunate at the time, but I suppose it is a good way now to rebuild for the First Division and try and get crowds back into the Markets Field, try and push on for promotion like we did back in 2016.
“Personally, I felt very disappointed for the first four or five weeks after we got relegated. It took a long time to get over.
“The whole squad was devastated, we had that felling that with a few of the players we would not see them again, they were likely to push on to Premier Division clubs this season. Then you see how disappointed the fans were.”
Fitzgerald, who played his schoolboy football with Mungret Regional, went on represent the Limerick District Schoolboy League at Kennedy Cup level, under the management of Jason O’Connor.
He later played League of Ireland U17 football with Mervue United, in Galway, before coming to Limerick FC in January 2016.
Then Blues boss Neil McDonald handed winger Fitzgerald his league debut in their Premier Division fixture with Drogheda Utd at the Markets Field in October 2017, with his first team bow coming in a FAI Cup last 16 victory over Finn Harps earlier in the season.
Fitzgerald is currently in his second year studying Economics and Finance at UL said he is happy to remain at Limerick at present.
“You always have the ambition to play in the highest league, the highest standard of football. My college commitments are pretty important to me and I kinda just wanted to have two years done and maybe take a year or two out and see where I go from there.
“I the meantime I am loving my football under Tommy Barrett. I am Limerick born and bred. It is my hometown club and I love every minute of it.
“I will see how the next couple of seasons go and hopefully we can bounce straight back and get promoted to the Premier Division again. There will always be those ambitions there of playing up at a higher level, we will see how it goes.”
So how would the exciting teenager compare the player who started the 2018 season playing for Limerick in the Premier Division to that which kicks-off life in the First Division this Friday night?
“I think last season was vitally important, both for my personal development and also the whole mental side of it. You go from being one of the ‘so-called’ better players in an U19 squad and then you are thrown into the deep end then in the Premier Division.
“You really do learn as you are playing. I think I played more than 40 games last year between the whole league and Cup campaign and I really did learn a lot from the older lads as well.
“Unfortunately, they may not be here this year, but that is where I have to step up as a senior player and try and guide the next group of lads coming through from the U19 squad.
“I think I developed physically and mentally, especially on the physical part, I had to do a lot of work in the gym and stuff to build up my strength.
“I think I have done that and I am really looking forward to the start of the season to show what I can do personally and what the team can do.”
Limerick are 20/1 outsiders with bookmakers to win the First Division title this season, behind odds-on favourites Shelbourne.