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Wednesday 22 August 2018

Why Eamon Fitzmaurice is making his own luck

Kerry boss has proven himself this summer

Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

SMALL Margins. Big calls.

Éamonn Fitzmaurice isn't inclined to question to vagaries of football but he knows the gossamer-thin divide between boom and bust.

"The thing about the last day," he says in brief but fairly didactic synopsis of Donegal's tumultuous win over Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final, "if Dublin had gotten their goal chances in the first half, it would have been a lot harder for Donegal.

"So small margins….that Durcan save from Diarmuid Connolly, in particular, was a big moment in the game."

And the season.

Big calls?

Either Fitzmaurice has a feel for them or he's been extremely lucky. Or both.

Last year, the Gooch-to-centre-forward stunt almost got them to an All-Ireland final against the head.

This year, he's been even more prolific with his picks.

Kieran Donaghy's career had been trudging to a halt. Blitzkrieg over. The scrapyard beckoned.

One late 'all in' bet against Mayo in Croke Park later and he's perhaps the main reason Kerry are back in the final.

It's the leaving players out, though, the tougher calls, which Fitzmaurice has managed to execute without the natives kicking up or the eruption of the sort of drama with used be a feature of Jack O'Connor's reign.

Declan O'Sullivan - bandy knees and all - looked a man reborn in Páric Uí Chaoimh in the Munster final but one middling performance against Galway later and he was benched for both Mayo games.

Not necessarily dropped per se, but given the esteem in which O'Sullivan is held in Kerry, deeming his talents and durability more suited to finishing rather than starting was no small judgement.

And Marc Ó Sé!

sequence

After 13 years and 78 Championship appearances (when he won he 77th against Galway, Ó Sé was elevated to third on the all time Kerry list behind brothers Darragh and Tomás) the record will show that his former team mate, Éamonn Fitzmaurice, was the man to drop Marc, thus ending a sequence of 101 consecutive Championship games stretching back to the 1995 Munster final in which one, two or all of the Ó Sé brothers started for Kerry.

Clock cleaned courtesy Andy Moran in the next game and Ó Sé was dropped.

In a county where tradition and parochialism rule, it was a big, big call and happily for Fitzmaurice, Ó Sé probably played his back into the Kerry team for Sunday's final.

"it depends on what your assessment of high risk was," he shrugs.

"If it's a case of putting in a form player, we see that as low risk. We're going with form, which is the best barometer you have.

"OK, you can argue that it's more of a risk putting in a rookie or an inexperienced player ahead of an experienced one but I don't see it that way. If they're going well…

"I think, to be fair, there is a couple of things in it. First of all, there is a great togetherness in the squad. And the lads have all bought into it big time. They know that not everyone can start every day and we've very consistent in that that's what we've done. We've picked on form."

Again, miniscule margins. Had Kerry lost, he'd take on the appearance of a man with very obvious scapegoat-y type features.

"As long as you win, you escape all of that," he insists.

"You can't think about that or try and base a decision around that. You have to go with what is in front of your eyes. If you're wrong, at least you're wrong making your own mistakes, not someone else's.

"I think you're better off going on your own instinct."

So quite easily, you could paint Sunday as a meeting of great and potentially great minds.

esteemed

Jim McGuinness, clearly, resides in that esteemed bracket. In Kerry, where they allegedly cultivate footballers as part of their horticultural, acclaim is understandably less forthcoming.

But as Kerry stand five years beyond their last All-Ireland title (their great drought since 1997), victory on Sunday against such a master tactician would surely propel Fitzmaurice's already rising stock.

In his own words, Fitzmaurice hasn't come across a team so instantly defined by their manager or system.

"But to be fair to Jimmy McGuinness, when he took over Donegal, they were at Ground Zero," he points out.

"He implemented a very defensive system the first year, got them to an All-Ireland semi-final.

"Came up short by being so defensive. But then changed their gameplan again the next year to kind of give them the attacking threat in their game and get the balance right. Obviously, he deserves a huge amount of credit."

It might be pushing it to adopt Joe Brolly's stance on last week's The Sunday Game that McGuinness and Murphy represent the only two irreplaceable items on the Donegal menu.

That everyone else is replaceable with another drone within the all-conquering system.

But it's no surprise all the same that Fitzmaurice has such high regard for Donegal's captain.

"He's got a great game intelligence from the point of view that he knows when he's needed inside. He knows when he's needed outside. He always seems to make big interventions.

immense

"But they have other important players. Someone likes Ryan McHugh has come along this year and taken his brother's mantel and he has done that very, very well. Neil Gallagher has been immense for them in the middle of the field.

"Paddy McBrearty has been coming on and kicking scores. They have good players all over the field. Their half back line; Thompson, Lacey, Frank McGlynn driving on, they have a lot of different threats in different places.

"But Michael Murphy is their main man. He's very important for him, for sure.

"They way they play the game, you're going to be playing it on their terms," Fitzmaurice adds, almost as a cautionary note.

"But there are still things you can do and we hope we have a few tricks up our sleeves.

"But absolutely, if you're playing it fully on their terms, it could be a long day so you have to play parts of it on your own terms."

Biggest calls. Smallest margins

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