Eamonn Fitzmaurice has tough call to make on Kerry starting 15
IN HIS first year in charge of Kerry, Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s campaign ended in an enthralling All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin in 2013.
The provincial wheel has come full circle again, pitting the Munster champions with the Leinster champions in the All-Ireland semi-final pairing. Since then, however, a 2015 Allianz National League win over Dublin in Killarney is the only time Fitzmaurice has led Kerry to a win over the Dubs.
It’s well documented that Kerry feel they didn’t perform in last year’s All-Ireland decider and the subsequent league final defeat in April raised questions in the county about where the team is headed. Changes in personnel were made after the league final loss, Tadhg Morley and Brian Ó Beaglaoich the most noteworthy introductions, but the Kerry boss says those changes were always in the pipeline.
“I don’t think winning the league final would have made a big difference to our approach for the Championship,” Fitzmaurice said
“Making changes to the panel was still part of our plan, regardless of the result of that match.”
His opposite number Jim Gavin has proved to be a bit of an enigma in his time with the All-Ireland champions. Gavin started out the same year as Fitzmaurice, in 2013, and the Kerry boss holds his Dublin counterpart in high regard.
“I think he is brilliant at the job he does and the one thing that strikes me about him is his modesty, despite the success he has achieved,” said Fitzmaurice.
“He keeps his head very well and he has also kept the hunger within the camp to go on and achieve more.”
One big issue any side has to address when facing the Dubs is how to counter Stephen Cluxton’s trajectory with kick-outs. It’s not as simple as pushing up on them, according to Fitzmaurice: “We found that out in the league final, when he managed to still find his target despite us pushing up,” he said.
“Even when people have tried to counter what he does from the kick-outs, he has found ways to get around it, so he remains a big conundrum for any team Dublin play.”
While all the speculation about how Kerry will line up on Sunday will be ended with the announcement of the team on Friday night, Fitzmaurice agrees it might well be the team Kerry finish with that could be key to the outcome.
“The 21 you use is vital to winning any game now because a game can change in a matter of moments, especially coming towards the end and if there is a lot of injury-time,” he said.
“The Ulster final was probably the best example of that, when you look at how that game changed from where it was heading into injury-time.”
There is a lot of discussion within the county about whom 2016 might be the last hurrah for in the Kerry panel, but Fitzmaurice said any such ambition to give it one final fling is more a matter for individual players and not the group as a whole.
“I know we have players that probably feel that they are coming to the end of their time at inter-county level, while we have others who are anxious to make a name for themselves in a match like this," he added.
“Those motivations are a personal thing though. The sole focus, as a group, is to try and get back into another All-Ireland final.”
Tomás Ó Sé and Eoin Brosnan were the big departures after Kerry’s All-Ireland semi-final loss to Dublin in 2013. Tomás’ brother Marc and Aidan O’Mahony are the two considered most likely to be in the midst of their final year at inter-county level for the Kingdom, especially as they are no longer guaranteed starters for the county.
Whether they will be given a final fling by Fitzmaurice - either in the starting line-up or sprung from the bench on Sunday - will be most interesting.