It was a night of celebration in Longford RFC last Friday as club stalwart and IRFU Junior Vice President Pat Fitzgerald was presented with the coveted Mr. Boots award in front of a packed clubhouse.
For Pat Fitzgerald, it was back to his rugby roots as it was in Longford that his rugby journey began way back in 1973.
Since then it has been a rollercoaster ride for the Kildare native as a move to Dublin failed to dampen his love for the Longford club and a burning desire for Junior rugby all over Ireland.
In 1979 he was part of a committee that helped build the current Longford RFC clubhouse. From 1981 to 1983 he was instrumental in the installation of the first two prunty pitches in the south of Ireland and went on to be President of the club from 1983 to 1985.
Since his move to Dublin he has been involved in some capacity with Leinster rugby for the past 25 years, while 2012 marks his sixth year with the IRFU. He is currently serving as Chairman of the IRFU Commercial & Marketing Committee and is Junior Vice President.
The Mr.Boots award is presented every year to someone who has excelled in their work and contribution to Junior rugby and was introduced after the retirement of the great Willie John McBride back in 1980.
One of his last games was against Arklow RFC and afterwards he presented his boots as a memento hence the wording of the prestigious annual IRFU award.
Pat Fitzgerald is a worthy and popular winner and has been in the thick of all that has been good in Irish Rugby for over two decades.
Born in Rathangan, Fitzgerald resided in Ferbane in Count Offaly before making Longford his home and building his rugby roots.
A current resident of Castleknock in Dublin, his ties with Longford are as strong as ever and at the function on Friday night, it was Longford men Warren Turner and Paddy Quinn who led the tributes to their current club trustee.
The all business Fitzgerald admitted to being ‘honoured and humbled’ to win such an award.
He added: “I am delighted to have been chosen and I feel that this Mr.Boots award is not just for me but for my club Longford Rugby Football Club. Volunteerism is the lifeblood of our game and that applies now more than ever.
“We need to find ways of increasing our volunteer force and making our clubs more attractive to new members as well as keeping our tried and trusted volunteers. And this is going to be a task but we have to embrace it and embrace it immediately.”
Surrounded by club-mates as well as Leinster and IRFU colleagues and family, Pat accepted the honorary green jacket and tie to signify his award from Padraic McGann to a rapturous ovation.
His contribution to grassroots rugby will never be forgotten in Longford in particular and their present day facilities verify that.
A super clubhouse with excellent playing pitches to boot, Fitzgerald played his part in that and although a Kildare man by birth, he will always have Longford blood coursing through his rugby-infused body.
Former winners of the award as well as guest of honour, Tom Grace, who currently sits as the Honorary Treasurer of the Irish Rugby Football Union, all joined Fitzgerald for the special occasion.
Grace was one of Ireland’s finest backs in the 1970s and represented Leinster, Ireland and also the British & Irish Lions on their trip to South Africa in 1974.
The tributes poured in on the night with Jonnie Cahill, Marketing Director of O2 Ireland, quick to add his contribution.
“It’s great to be back here in Longford and the club is looking fantastic. For us in O2 we do a lot with Irish rugby and Pat is our contact,” he said.
“He has been really instrumental in keeping us involved and keeping us honest and making sure we are doing the right stuff.
“Our sense of it is that it is so well deserved. It’s easy to look at it and say its just another award but the pedigree of the people that win this is just unbelievable. For a proud Longford man to receive this in his home club is just great.”
Peter O’Brien from Diageo and Guinness was also in attendance and they continue to support and sponsor Irish rugby in all levels as O’Brien explains: “Longford can be very proud of Pat Fitzgerald. He has represented Longford well at the highest level and I soldiered with him in New Zealand this year and he has represented Longford all over the world.”
One of the men who has worked closely with Pat Fitzgerald over the years has been Aviva Stadium Director Martin Murphy who said: “I am delighted to be back in Longford as I played down here many years ago. I think it’s absolutely great for Pat.
“I am really delighted for him. He has been honoured by his peers and has done so much for Irish rugby.
“Pat and I were on a number of Committees in the IRFU and I have first hand experience of him as a negotiator on behalf of the Union and the amount of effort and work he has done and the things he has achieved will probably never be known.
“It’s back to where he started and he has represented Longford so well on many different levels. Everybody has huge respect for him.”