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'I Have To Say Na Fianna, With 3,500 Members, Really Is A Community'

Proud sponsors of the Dublin GAA Club Championships, Go-Ahead Ireland today hosted a media event with Shane Cunningham of Kilmacud Crokes and Alasdar Fitzgerald of Na Fianna pictured ahead of Sunday’s Go-Ahead Dublin Senior Football Championship final taking place in Parnell Park at 4.30pm. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

By PJ Browne Updated
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He was only five at the time, but Ali Fitzgerald has memories of the Na Fianna glory days. His father was running the clubhouse bar at the time, and still talks about how busy he was. Between 1999 and 2001, Na Fianna won three consecutive Dublin titles, and reached the All-Ireland final in 2000.

"I remember a game in 2001 where they lost [the Leinster final replay against Rathnew]," says Fitzgerald, speaking at a media day for the Go-Ahead Ireland Dublin Senior Football Championship final.

"I just remember being five or six-years-old, and the crushing disappointment that it caused me. I remember tears coming out of my eyes, and being supported by my mam.

"I didn't really know what was happening at the time. To think back now on what a huge occasion that was for the club, and for those lads, it's funny how certain memories stick with you."

That was 21 years ago. Na Fianna haven't won a senior men's title in the interim, and haven't been in a final since 2005. Though, there is a sense that space may have to be made in the Mobhi Road trophy cabinet soon.

This weekend, Na Fianna play Kilmacud Crokes in the football final, and next weekend, for the second consecutive year, their hurlers also play in the senior county final.

23 December 2001; The Na Fianna team ahead of the AIB Leinster Senior Club Football Championship Final Replay match between Na Fianna and Rathnew at St Conleth's Park in Newbridge, Kildare. Photo by Damien Eagers/Sportsfile

"Last year, everyone got a taste of what it meant to be in the final with the hurlers, and the ladies footballers," says Fitzgerald.

"That pushed the standards this year for us, and the camogie as well, if I can speak for them."

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Na Fianna exited the championship last year at the quarter-final stage after a two-point defeat to Crokes.

"We came away from that game a bit disappointed," says Fitzgerald.

"We got into the game a bit too late. We know playing against Crokes that they're brilliant competitors, a great team. We have a lot of respect for them.

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"Seeing them push on through Leinster, and into the All-Ireland final, it reaffirmed to us we're not too far off. To be honest, without knowing it, they gave us a little bit of inspiration for this year, to try and match what they had last year.

"They've set the standard over the last year or two. In Dublin, we've had great battles against them. In league a final last year, championship last year. Even league this year, we've crossed paths many times. It's great, they are the teams you want to be playing, and comparing yourself to.

"Ask anyone on our team, we've had a lot of humbling moments over the last few years. Maybe years where we thought we were closer than we were, especially my age, the '96 lads who might have had a lot of success underage, but then when we transferred to senior, that wasn't the case.

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"It wasn't just going to happen overnight for us. The development of our team has come over the last few years with underage teams coming together, and developing a bond.

"This year, it's a little bit different. We have 30 - 33 lads, and anyone of them could be on the pitch. Everyone is pushing each other. It's a really competitive but fun environment.

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"It's the pain of other years that motivates you to keep going. Especially last year was a tough one to take. If you can reference back to that feeling we had after the quarter-final [last year] and put the energy into that for this year, it's a big one."

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1 October 2022; Ali Fitzgerald of Na Fianna during the Dublin County Senior Club Football Championship Semi-Final match between Ballyboden St Endas and Na Fianna at Parnell Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Fitzgerald says there has been a "great buzz" around the club as they beat Whitehall Colmcille in the quarter-finals, and Ballyboden St Endas in the semi-finals.

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"It's tough to get a community in a Dublin club," says Fitzgerald.

"I suppose you look at Na Fianna, the catchment area, and the clubs that you're competing with - Whitehall, Vincents, Ballymun Kickhams. They're all clubs that try to attract big numbers as well. You're in the city, a lot of people might not be interested in football or hurling.

"I have to say that Na Fianna, with the 3,500 members, it really is a community. Over the last few weeks, seeing the colours around the area, it shows that there's so many people behind us and supporting us.

"Everyone gets behind the teams, no matter if it's a junior hurling game or senior football game. There's always crowds out watching games.

"The bar is a big community hub now. The lads are down there playing music every Thursday, and have been for years. The club, it really feels like a home.

"Even the coffee shop, Bua, that's on the corner, right at the game. It's always full of Na Fianna people. There's just a real sense of home there. A lot of friendships made, and continued over the last few years.

"It all just feels like one, even with the ladies footballers, and the camogie. The four senior adult teams are really bonded at the moment. It seems that over the last couple of years, that's got stronger."

That there is a strong sense of community around Na Fianna is a sentiment with which Donal Burke, one of the club's star hurlers, agrees. Burke says the campaign to stop the MetroLink going through the club brought people together.

"We were fighting the Metro a few years ago," he says.

"That added to it as well. That clubhouse, I would have spent my whole childhood there. It has a lot of memories for a lot of us. It definitely brought us together. The next two weeks will have a similar effect."

For Fitzgerald, the hope is that this weekend, he can emulate his heroes of 20 years ago, "club icons, national icons" like Kieran McGeeney, Dessie Farrell, and Jason Sherlock.

"You always think back to those days when you're in the nursery, coming up through the ages, or even at senior level," says Fitzgerald.

"That was always the Na Fianna team that you want to be like - you wanted to have something like that for your own team, for yourself.

"You think back on their stories, and hope that in 20 years time, that there will be somebody else sitting up here talking about our team."

See Also: Kilmacud Crokes Ignored 'Mud Thrown' Over Shane Walsh Transfer

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