Éamonn Fitzmaurice ready for 'another opportunity to have a crack at the best team in the country'

By John Fogarty

“When I hear Kerry talking about Dublin football or other counties, I take it with a large pinch of salt.”

The remarks of Jim Gavin in July 2015 when Darragh Ó Sé suggested an All-Ireland quarter-final with Fermanagh wasn’t what Dublin needed.

Éamonn Fitzmaurice might have said the same were he asked about yesterday’s Irish Examiner in which former Dublin midfielder Paul Bealin said Kerry didn’t want to be facing the All-Ireland champions so soon after their draw in Tralee.

That may be the case for some supporters but sources close to the Kerry camp insist his comments after Sunday’s win over Tyrone — “it’s another opportunity to have a crack at the best team in the country and that can only help us improve”, are true to his feelings.

Dublin, be it in an official capacity or unofficial, are keener than ever to speak about other teams. Gavin, two years ago, notably made no demarcation between what Ó Sé wrote in his column and the Kerry camp. Mayo would argue they saw no difference between Paul Clarke’s pre-final replay comments about Lee Keegan and the thoughts of his friend and former team-mate Gavin, who he deputised for during January’s O’Byrne Cup.

Likewise, Kerry now find it difficult to separate Paul Curran’s “ashamed” comments about Kerry from his old colleague Gavin and Philly McMahon’s own references to last month’s draw in Tralee. We have spoken in these pages before about the idea of a county or province, in more ways than one, getting behind a team. Whenever an Ulster side has reached September, the “Team Ulster” philosophy is evident. With pointed remarks about the opposition, former players and pundits illustrate their support. That has always been the case in Kerry although their brand of it is more subtle.

However, the same can’t be said for Dublin whose determination to influence “the narrative”, as Fitzmaurice puts it, is obvious.

For so long, Dublin weren’t signed up to the one-for-all-and-one-for-all idea. There would always be one or two former players or managers who wouldn’t read from the script (that remains the case in Mayo). However, there was little disguising the intent of Clarke last September when he singled out Keegan — “I actually think Lee is conceding his footballing ability by pulling and dragging rather than pitching himself against him as a footballer.”

Likewise, when Curran damned Kerry’s display in Tralee, saying they “really should be ashamed of themselves” there was a message being conveyed.

Those in the capital may argue such words are being spoken because Dublin require protection but then that doesn’t tally with McMahon’s recollection of his conversation with Colm Cooper after the 2015 final.

“I said, ‘This is the way that I play football, this is what you have to do to win a game. I am going to do what I can to beat you and you are going to do what you can to beat me.’ And he said, ‘fair enough’, and then we shook hands.”

Or his comments before last year’s final: “I like to think I’m a nice person off the pitch. On the pitch, I’m there to do what I can to help my team win.”

And at Monday’s Allianz League final launch, McMahon was saying Dublin weren’t complaining about Kerry being more physical but qualified: “The way Kerry played in Tralee, that’s what they had to do and it’s not down to me to judge that. I’m a player, it’s down to the officials to police that.”

In truth, Kerry have upped it in the physical stakes. Donnchadh Walsh telegraphed in January when he said Mayo had set the example in that regard against Dublin. Recalling last year, he said: “Dublin didn’t play as well in those two All-Ireland finals and that was probably Mayo not allowing them to play as well as we allowed them to play. I think there’s something in how Mayo were maybe able to match them for that physicality on both days and if we had had that, that physicality, we might have brought their performance down a peg or two.”

Fitzmaurice seems as perturbed with “the narrative” as he does of Kerry falling foul of another cruel refereeing decision this Sunday. Dublin have truly been the better team this decade but calls from 2011 onwards still rankle in Kerry. The earlier unpunished foul which impacted on Declan O'Sullivan in the build-up to McManamon's goal and McManamon’s double-hop. The 2014 league game when the Kerry manager found fault with David Coldrick’s display — “We found it very hard to get frees in the second half close to goal. Dublin didn’t. “

Last year’s league final when Fitzmaurice lambasted the “rape and pillage going on in front of the goals at the other side (Dublin defence) in the second-half and we didn’t get anything”. David Gough’s failure to see McManamon’s crucial foul on Peter Crowley — “I don’t want to be looking at the paper tomorrow and it’s saying: Fitzmaurice said this about the ref,” the Finuge man uttered with half of his tongue bitten off.

Gavin has been clever in his media dealings this year, not just restricting them to post-match press conferences but referring back to previous games when he believes Dublin have been victims of either refereeing decisions or unpunished foul play.

It wasn’t until after last Sunday’s Monaghan game that he mentioned what he felt went on the week before in Austin Stack Park — “I can’t speak for Kerry.

“There was a lot of off-the-ball activity in that game. All I can speak for is how Dublin approach the game and we’ll continue to play our traditional style of football.”

Cooper’s retirement on its own had changed “the narrative” ahead of Sunday’s final but Fitzmaurice had clearly decided enough was enough. As he said, those at the game in Tralee would have appreciated both teams were indulging in the dark arts. Make no mistake Kerry were aggressors at times — Tadhg Morley constantly pulled and dragged out of Ciarán Kilkenny and Brian Fenton’s progress was illegitimately curtailed on occasions — but then Adrian Spillane came off worse in his off-the-ball spat with Eric Lowndes and Stephen Cluxton reacted angrily to Paul Geaney kicking away one of his footballs, which prompted a melee.

If Gavin felt Dublin’s football was good enough alone to win an All-Ireland, his team would be whiter than white but they’re not and that’s fine but don’t expect not to be pulled up when saying otherwise.

Likewise, if football alone was sufficient to go all the way, Gavin wouldn’t be playing mind games. For Dublin to be as great as they are, resorting to such evils are necessary. They’re kidding themselves and everyone else if they think they’re not.

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.


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