Friday 18 January 2019

from no- hopers to kings of september

Fitzmaurice salutes 'special' spirit of outsiders' triumph

AH Kerry. There was a time this year, from around February, when to believe the mournful laments from the Kingdom's dwellers was to accept that Éamonn Fitzmaurice might find it hard even to field a team this summer.

No Gooch, no Galvin, no Tomás, no Brosnan.

No hope, apparently.

Yet here we are, seven months on, and they're All-Ireland champions. Senior and minor.

No Kerry All-Ireland should ever feel surprising yet this one did.

We'll never learn.

"It's a very special achievement. A lot of the lads in that dressing room, it's their first All-Ireland medal," pointed out Éamonn Fitzmaurice after the deal was sealed.

"Take someone like James O'Donoghue, special player, special talent.

"He's lost Hogan Cup finals, hasn't had a good time with minors and Under-21s in Kerry. Himself and a lot of the lads. I don't know what the count is but there's five or six of them were below in Páirc Uí Rinn, absolutely hosed by a Cork team in 2011.

"So, for those fellas it's very, very special to win an All-Ireland. That was our target, that's what we wanted to do. They're a special group of lads.

"Very focused. Brilliant to train. Absolute pleasure to be working with. I was like a player when we were going in every night for training, excited.

"Just a privilege to be working with them. Anything we throw at them, anything we ask them to do. Nothing was too much. The spirit in the group was absolutely incredible, driven by the likes of Declan O'Sullivan, who wasn't starting games.

"When you have a selfless man like that. Colm, who's been out injured all year. When you have fellas like that driving the spirit in the group and showing that there's no ego, no selfishness, it's a special place to be."

In Kerry, they grow footballers from the trees in which opposition spies hang out, apparently.

"I won them as players and I won one in 2009 as a selector with Jack," said Fitzmaurice, a popular manager with a rising stock, yet one who would inevitably have felt some pressure were he to return to the Kingdom without the big cup which visits so often.

"I would have said after that that nothing compares with being a player, but it does very favourably.

"It does. I felt like a player this summer. I don't know, I promised myself I wouldn't but I became so obsessed and I was so excited going into training every night.

"That's down to the lads, the players, down to the management team around me. It's down to the backroom team, the backing of the county board. It's a great environment to be working in so this one is every bit as special as any of the medals I won as a player."

Understandably, Jim McGuinness's thoughts were of a more sanguine nature, more a search for answers than anything definite.

His team gave away a first-minute goal from a long ball, another from a miscued kick-out and still had a chance to force a replay cannon back off Kerry's post in added time.

When you add all these things up, you couldn't but conclude that any luck going around Croke Park yesterday certainly passed Jim McGuinness by.


"I wouldn't agree with that," he interjected.

"It was a bit of a hammer-blow conceding the first goal but I thought we reacted to it really well. We still weren't playing like the way we normally can.

"The second goal was a hammer-blow but I thought we reacted to it well. But you would have to ask the question why were we not able to do that during open play in normal time.

"Why did we not go at the opposition? Why did it have to be on the back of conceding a goal? People have talked about Papa's (Paul Durcan) goal that we gave away.

"But we lost the game over 70 minutes based on our own performance level. You could say that all two of the goals had an impact on the game. But I personally think if we were fully at ourselves - intensive and sharp and aggressive on the counter-attack - and played the way that we practised in terms of seeing that man inside with the 'dink' ball. I think we could have been very competitive through the game.

"It didn't happen that way and that is the most disappointing thing."

Quite why it didn't happen remained a mystery to McGuinness until the end of his press conference, but he considered the possibility that Kerry had a large part to play in it.

Remember, it's five years since the Kingdom last won the thing.

And within those Sam-less season have been defeats of different shapes and sizes, from Down in 2010 to Donegal in 2012 and Dublin in 2011 and last year.

Yesterday, they bore the flinty hallmarks of a team who have taken something tangible, some lesson from each of those losses.

Yesterday, they kept the entire starting Donegal attack to a single point from play.

"They are very flexible," said Fitzmaurice. "They can play in different positions, can do different jobs. Michael Geaney came on centre-forward today, he has played wing-forward for us, wing-back in the league.

"The backs are all flexible. They can all play in whatever position.

"They can all do a man-marking role, a covering role, they can carry ball, kick scores - I'm just very, very lucky with the bunch of players I am working with.

"The challenge for me is to have a game-plan in place maximising those players and making it awkward for the opposition," concluded Fitzmaurice. "But that's the part I love anyway."

And that's the thing. Water always finds a way. Kerry always win All-Irelands.

Football's great stylists have become its great pragmatists.

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