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Thursday 19 October 2017

'A chance to knock Dubs off their perch'

Fitzmaurice relishing second chance in NFL for long-awaited victory over Dublin

Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice prior to the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 2 match between Kerry and Mayo at Austin Stack Park in Tralee, Co. Kerry. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice prior to the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 2 match between Kerry and Mayo at Austin Stack Park in Tralee, Co. Kerry. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Such was the disappointment painted on Éamonn Fitzmaurice's face as he fielded yet another set of questions after yet another failed attempt to beat Dublin, it's safe to assume he thought there and then in Tralee that his chance had gone until summer.

Fitzmaurice has spent four of the five winters of his management of Kerry lamenting Dublin.

Lately, he has used more oxygen speaking about them that he has about his own team, almost.

All of Kerry's footballing fraternity have a Dublin-shaped boil just now and the chance to lance it before what most expect will be an All-Ireland final meeting this September was clearly an aim around which Fitzmaurice had built his spring.

So afterwards, he had the cut of a man who was operating off the disappointed presumption that his team would be haunted by talk of Dublin right up to the point that they get another chance beat them this summer.

And that he would have to do engineer that win without the aid of a League success with which to convince his younger players that such a result was possible.

"Every time we play them we're trying to beat them, but they're a serious team," said Fitzmaurice this week in the same press conference where he took the unusual step of listing off, in his opinion, some of Dublin's recent on-field transgressions.

"We're not the only team to struggle with them over the last few years," he pointed out.

Challenge

"The football ability they have, coupled with the hard edge they have - they have great character, great mental strength, and the more times they've been in those sticky situations and come out the other side, the stronger they get.

"But it's a great challenge for us because the day you beat them then you've made strides."

If Fitzmaurice was 'on message' about what he felt was biased media comment over the relative deployment of physicality of Sunday's League finalists, he was also eager to point out - and repeat - that his players were not suffering from Dublin-phobia.

"I don't think so; players always look to the next game. The following day there might be a bit of thinking 'what could we have done differently'.

"We have a huge game Sunday and whatever happens after that, we'll bunker down for the championship and get ready for that.

"It's exciting to be going to Croke Park to play a serious team and to get a chance to knock them off their perch," he added.

In Tralee that night of their drawn league encounter, the air crackled with electricity.

The locals in Kerry are as choosy in rewarding performances as the audience at La Scala and usually, with a similarly refined appreciation of what usually passes for entertainment but they lost themselves in the desperation of watching their team trying to beat Dublin that night.

Confidence

Four points up with eight minutes to go, they must have fancied their chances. Or with a two-point lead in injury-time.

"I don't know what it is, Dublin have been excellent in the closing stages of games.

"Last Sunday against Monaghan again they came back from the dead so they're very good at finishing games strong.

"A lot of that is belief and confidence, the strength of their squad is a factor - but the last game here, we were two points down on 60 minutes and we led going into injury time," added Fitzmaurice.

"Unfortunately we didn't see it out.

"But every time you go out you're trying to improve on things that are keeping a gap between the two teams. Hopefully we can keep narrowing that gap in the latter stage of games."

There's also a League title at stake tomorrow but for Kerry, such a gong represents a triviality in comparison to their need to get one over Dublin.

Naturally, their run of woe has been compared to their record against Tyrone in the middle part of the last decade when Fitzmaurice himself was still playing.

"The difference is that we beat Tyrone in some league games then," he pointed out. "Whereas Dublin are on this run and we haven't managed to beat them in League or Championship.

"The night we played Dublin here in Tralee we showed we had the capacity to beat them but we didn't finish it off.

"We're not foolish enough to realise it won't be difficult next weekend," Fitzmaurice added, "but we're relishing that challenge."

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