Michael Antony Fitzgerald
Mike Fitzgerald, a free running fullback from Newcastle, burst onto the representative scene in 1975 with a series of scintillating performances that secured him selection for the Sixth Wallabies tour at just 20 years of age. Unfortunately, an unforgiving hamstring saw Fitzgerald wage a forlorn battle with injury throughout the tour.
Born in Sydney, Fitzgerald played his first rugby for Monaro High School, Cooma in the ACT competition, and in his final two years played in the 1st XV (1971-72). In 1970 he represented ACT U16s and two years later was selected for both the ACT U18s and NSW Combined High Schools.
By 1975 Fitzgerald was playing club football in Newcastle for the famous Waratah club. That season New South Wales Country enjoyed arguably their greatest year, one that was highlighted by two wins over Sydney as well as defeats of both England and Japan. Fitzgerald caught the eye against the English (W 14-13) in Goulburn where he threw a precisely timed pass for winger Ian Cameron to race away for the winning try deep into injury time. He also stood tall for Country when they “completely outclassed” Sydney 31-10 to retain the Wallaby Trophy. In a review of that match one journalist wrote: “Fitzgerald and outside-centre Bill McKid helped their chances greatly” with the Wallaby touring team in mind. Fitzgerald’s form earned him a state debut in the season’s second match against Queensland, one that doubled as the main trial ahead of the Sixth Wallabies team announcement. New South Wales ran out convincing 43-12 winners and the press were glowing in their commentary about the young Newcastle fullback: - His “dynamic attacking play was one of the brightest spots in the final tour trial”; Fitzgerald was “a sensation” in the pre-tour trials; he is “one of Australia’s most exciting prospects”. Fitzgerald, alongside Laurie Monaghan and utility back Jim Hindmarsh - who was the incumbent Wallaby fullback - were chosen for the John Hipwell-captained squad.
Picked for the tour’s opening fixture, against Oxford University, Fitzgerald strained his hamstring at a London training session in the week ahead of his debut. The selectors then chose to put him “on ice”. While the injury progressively showed signs of improvement tour manager Ross Turnbull was determined that Fitzgerald would not repeat the experience of some former tourists and told him to forget about playing until there was “no doubt his recovery is complete.” To Fitzgerald’s enormous credit he wore his disappointment extremely well. He did not let his spirit drop nor allowed his disappointment to transfer to other members of the team.
Fitzgerald eventually made his Australian debut in the 30-25 victory over Ulster, a game in which he converted all four Wallaby tries. Fitzgerald later conceded that he was not totally ready and as such did not fully extend himself. Tragically, in the very next match, Fitzgerald “knifed beautifully into the back line to put John Ryan away for a try but in the process felt that jab of pain again” in his leg. “It’s much worse this time”, the strain had indeed developed into a rupture, Fitzgerald lamented and sadly the injury ended his tour.
A 1977 comeback saw Fitzgerald spearhead Newcastle to early wins in the Country Carnival before he won selection on the NSW Country tour to the Pacific, USA. Canada and New Zealand. Fitzgerald then retired from representative rugby before he joined Wasps for a season in England. Fitzgerald returned to Newcastle where he continued to play club rugby through to the end of 1980.
Fitzgerald started two matches for the Sixth Wallabies - vs. Ulster at Ravenhill (W 30-12), and vs. Edinburgh at Myreside (W 10-9).