The Championship

Eamonn Fitzmaurice grits teeth as Kerry lose with dignity

  Dejected Kerry goalkeeper Brian Kelly after his side lost yesterday’s epic All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin in Croke Park

ANOTHER man would have seethed. And privately, there’s no doubt that Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s stomach was in knots. His face gave it away.

But his teeth bit hard into his tongue and refused to loosen. Lose with grace. That’s always been the Fitzmaurice way and, in what may well be his last appearance as Kerry boss, he exited his press conference with his dignity firmly intact.

He almost let it go when quizzed on why Kerry hadn’t pushed up on Dublin’s kick-outs in the second half the way that they had at times in the first.

“If you look back on the video you can only do it in certain situations, and we didn’t get those situations in the second half. You can only do it off a free. We didn’t get any frees.”

But when questioned on the vital decision by David Gough not to give Peter Crowley a free in injury-time with a point in the game, the Kerry boss maintained his composure.

“I made a decision coming down the corridor that I’m going to bite my lip. If I say anything, that becomes our reaction, which isn’t our reaction.

“Our reaction is that Dublin are an outstanding team. I don’t want to be looking at the paper tomorrow or Tuesday and seeing ‘Fitzmaurice said this about the ref’ or whatever.

“Ye saw it yourselves, ye are all smart guys, ye can make up your own mind. I don’t want that to be the story.”

He could not have been more effusive in his praise of Dublin, or his own team. For the second time in three years, they produced a toe-to-toe slugfest.

Kerry looked to have won it on two occasions, but the reigning champions’ pursuit was a shot at back-to-back All-Irelands was relentless.

“I think their resilience is their most impressive thing from my point of view,” he said.

“They have fantastic athletes, they’re great players, their manager deserves massive credit for the way that he keeps them on the edge that they’re on.

“We saw it today, we saw it in 2013, we saw it against Mayo last year – in the big games, they’ve great resilience and strength of character.”

Half-time came at the wrong time for Kerry. The swell from the moment that Paul Geaney intercepted Stephen Cluxton’s kick-out to set up a Darran O’Sullivan goal until the half-time whistle threatened to wash Dublin away.

Kerry had come from five down to go five up in little over 15 minutes leading into the break, but the Dubs dominated the third quarter to haul themselves back into it.

“We knew that they are brilliant at using half-time to right the ship. We had them on the ropes at half-time but as they’ve done so many times under Jim Gavin’s reign, they righted the ship again.

“We won the throw-in, it looked like David [Moran] was fouled and didn’t get the free, and they went down straight away and got a point that gave them life and belief straight away. You’ve to give them massive credit. We did have them on the ropes but they showed the stuff of champions in the second half.”

With his term up, Fitzmaurice wouldn’t be drawn on his own future, saying that his only thought had been of returning to Croke Park on September 18.

On veterans like Marc Ó Sé, Aidan O’Mahony and Kieran Donaghy, he urged them to take their time before deciding if that is their last outing in the green and gold.

“We’ll have the winter long now for chewing over it.”

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The Championship