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1 CFC Games Played
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Pat Fitzgerald’s one and only game for Collingwood came at the relatively old age of 25. Just four years later he was dead, the victim of a cruel piece of misfortune that cut short the life of a truly gifted athlete.
Although we remember him as a Collingwood footballer, however briefly, it was in the field of athletics that Pat Fitzgerald made a far bigger name.
A Bairnsdale boy, he was a wonderful sprinter who was reputed to have run a world record time for the 100-yard sprint at the annual sports meeting at Xavier College in Kew in 1897. That time was just under 9.5 seconds, and The Age reported that, ‘Fitz’ himself was amongst those astonished at the result.
The time was never officially recognised but ‘Fitz’ still got plenty of mileage out of the achievement. He was a highly successful sprinter, winning a number of races, including the Maryborough Handicap (now known as the Maryborough Gift) in 1899.
A few months later, he tried out with the Magpies in the VFL. He’d been a good footballer with Bairnsdale at home, and had continued playing footy after he’d moved to Melbourne, where he went to Xavier and turned out for South St Kilda.
He did so well in the practice matches pre-1899, including one the Magpies played against a combined juniors side, that he was chosen to make his senior debut on the wing against Geelong in the opening round of the season.
On the night before that game, The Herald said: “A new flier in the Magpie flock – Fitzgerald – has quite satisfied the selection committee. He is speedy and reliable.”
Unfortunately they were less kind the following week: “Cullen for Essendon, and Fitzgerald (Collingwood) new wing men for the League this season did very little last Saturday. Each has yet much to learn.”
And so it proved. Speed was understandably Fitz’s biggest asset, and the wide open spaces of the wing suited him perfectly. But he didn’t get enough chances to show off his strengths in that game against the Pivotonians, and was dropped the next week, never to appear again.
He seems to have focused mostly on his athletic pursuits again thereafter. But in March of 1903, he was thrown from his horse while riding home to Bairnsdale from Omeo with a friend. He received severe injuries, and died at 3 o’clock the next morning.
A local newspaper said: “News of the death caused a most painful sensation in Bairnsdale, where the deceased was born and had lived most of his life. A few years ago he was one of the best sprinters in the State, and held the record for a hundred yards. He played for Collingwood Football Club three seasons ago.”
Even alongside a purported world record, Pat Fitzgerald’s one game for Collingwood still carried weight as a proud achievement. All Magpie fans would understand why.
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