Around The Fringes: Damien Fitzpatrick
Photo: SPA Images
2011 was supposed to be the year Damien Fitzpatrick kicked on and took his game closer to the level many astute rugby brains have predicted for him. Having made his HSBC Waratahs debut at 19, the speedy young hooker from the Eastwood club was expected to provide a serious challenge to Tatafu Polota-Nau for the starting spot in the No.2 jersey this year. However, after playing a role in the first five games of the season, fate dealt him a cruel hand.
“I’ve had a few setbacks,” he explains. “Unfortunately, in the Captain’s Run for the Western Force game in Perth I tore my medial meniscus. That took six weeks to recover from and then I got back to play the Lions in Week 14. The rehab had gone very well but again in the Captain’s Run, there was pain coming through my knee so I went off for another scan, and that showed up a stress fracture over that same joint.”
Having done the hard yards to get himself in the frame again, it was a bitter pill to swallow. “I was really disappointed because I’d worked really hard to get back, especially watching the way the boys were playing. I wanted to be a part of that but it’s funny the way the dice rolls in this game. At the same time that I got injured, Tatafu got injured and Johnny [Ulugia] started. But you can’t dwell on what you can’t change so that’s the way it is.”
Fitzpatrick took his inaugural steps in the game with the Mosman Whales before going through the ranks at St Joseph’s College – a year or two behind fellow Tahs Kurtley Beale and Pat McCutcheon. He dabbled in the backrow before moving to hooker at the age of 13, going on to captain the Australian Schoolboys side before joining the Waratahs Academy and getting his big break in 2009 against the Crusaders. It was an unexpected elevation to the first XV and remains his career highlight thus far.
“I wasn’t expecting it that year but I was lucky enough to get a break and it was extremely exciting. I was 19 and being a part of that team was what I’d always wanted and what I’d dreamed about. A lot of hard work came to fruition that night, I didn’t play for very long but I think it was just the symbolism of the fact that it showed that all that hard work had paid off. It was a special night.”
Rugby is often in the blood and many players cite paternal influence for their initial involvement in the game. However, in Fitzpatrick’s case, there is a subtle twist.
“My Dad had never touched a ball funnily enough, he was a very keen sailor when he was younger and a lot of people won’t know this but he was introduced to rugby by my mother. She’s actually Dutch but her family grew up in New Zealand, so she was very keen on the game and when she came over here, he was told that the boys [Fitzpatrick has an older brother and two younger sisters] were going to be playing rugby. Not many men get told by their wives to start loving a contact sport but in this case it happened!”
Juggling a burgeoning career in sport with necessary study for life after the last final whistle, is a problem faced by many young players. The support of his parents on both counts has proven pivotal to Fizpatrick’s success on and off the field, as he undertakes a degree in business economics at Macquarie University.
“My parents were very much about me having that balance, so my Mum was the one that made sure I kept my head down at school and was still able to study, while Dad was the one that did a lot of driving me around to training etc. They’re both incredibly proud of my progress. It’s quite funny, all my mother’s side are Kiwis but every time the Waratahs play they whack on their blue jerseys.”
Any further participation in the Cambridge Blue this year will depend on the HSBC Waratahs finishing in the top six after the regular season, that and the injury gods smiling down favourably for a change. “There is a chance that if we push forward and go into the finals campaign then I should be right. But at the same time, it’s one of those injuries where you take it day to day and everyone’s different. I’m going to be training like we’re making the finals and I’d love to be a part of it, so fingers crossed that I could get back. But if not, I’ll push forward for next season.”
Original version published in the NSW Waratahs v Highlanders match program on June 11th, 2011