An exceptional athlete, Des Fitzgerald joined the senior VFL list in 1955, having been promoted from the VFL Reserve Grade list after umpiring the 1954 Grand Final in that competition. He began his career in round two of that year when Melbourne defeated Geelong at the MCG.
Des was so impressive in that first season that he was appointed to his first finals series. Climbing the finals appointments like a step ladder, Fitzgerald umpired a Second Semi in 1956, a Preliminary in 1957 and, in 1958, the first of his three Grand Finals.
The 1958 Grand Final was one of the most memorable of all time. Melbourne, looking for four consecutive flags, faced Collingwood, looking to defend that record which they had set between 1927 and 1930. Played on a boggy MCG and, at times, in teeming rain, there were brawls aplenty in an explosive third quarter. Collingwood were eventually victorious, and only two reports were made on the day. Two seasons later, Fitzgerald went straight to the Grand Final after having umpired the almost regulation fourteen out of eighteen home and away rounds.
The Grand Final that year provided the least effort retuning the ball to the middle with only eight goals scored for the match . (Collingwood managed two for the match two). But, it was tough slogging through the mire that was the MCG on that day after days of torrential rain. Fitzgerald added another Grand Final – 1963 Geelong versus Hawthorn.
In 1972, he returned to the finals panel after a three year break — and the contrast between his earlier finals could not have been greater. In the 1972 Qualifying Final (the first ever played), Richmond and Collingwood combined for a total of 42 goals in a speedy contest that ranged from one end to the other, testing Fitzgerald’s and his partner Kevin Mitchell’s, fitness to the limits.
Des retired at the close of the home and away matches of the 1973 season with 312 VFL matches to his credit, which included 15 night series matches. He also umpired two interstate matches as well as being appointed to the 1958 Centenary of Football Carnival. Fitzgerald became a Life Member of the VFLUA in 1965.