By Brendan O’Brien
Try telling Éamonn Fitzmaurice that a draw is like kissing your sister.
Try telling anyone of Kerry stock.
It’s not that he thought this one was gone — or so he said— but a stalemate sure does beat the alternative: An early exit from the All-Ireland race and a pointless fixture two long and awkward weeks down the road against Kildare in Killarney.
A shuddering thought all round. For everyone.
“Thankfully it’s not something we have to countenance now,” he pointed out.
Fitzmaurice is the last person in need of a reminder as to just how painful defeat here and all that would come with it would have been. He is long enough in Kerry dressing-rooms to know that and the opening loss to Galway was a recent, unwanted refresher.
“I suppose it was a tough Sunday night,” he said of that loss. “We were disappointed. The beauty about it was that we had a game a week later. In other years the Championship would have been over, and that would have been that.
“We would have had a long winter of retrospection then and a lot of asking questions of each other, whereas this time you had a game a week later again. It was fantastic. We came together and we looked forward to the weekend. As I said, we’re still there.”
Kerry may have stolen a draw but Fitzmaurice was nonetheless plagued by a few regrets and the odd bugbear.
The perceived difficulty his side had in earning frees when compared to Monaghan was up there among them.
Others will harbour gripes of their own. Like, why was Kieran Donaghy, pivotal in the crucial goal at the end, not used in the opener against Galway? Or, why was Mark Griffin left on Conor McManus for 35 long and torturous minutes?
Both responses followed a similar theme: It was about the collective not individuals. “We trust Mark to do a job but Conor McManus is one of the top forwards in the country,” he said of the subplot that did most to torment them.
“I have often said that if there is uncontested ball going into someone like Conor McManus and he is coming in loops and he has space to operate than it is very hard to stop him. We changed it at half-time and Ronan did well on him at times but he is a top-class forward and we knew that.”
The net result of their refusal to fade away, and Monaghan’s inability to close it out, is an unexpected and, frankly, unmerited last chance at redemption, albeit one that will need a favourable result in Salthill if it is to come to pass.
“That’s it. And that’s the way it has always been. I think in a league if you get there, other results can always cause problems. For us, all we are doing is looking at Kildare. Try and win that game, see where that takes us.”