By Joel Slattery
Kerry boss Éamonn Fitzmaurice admits that the negativity and criticisms faced by inter-county players in the social media age are “challenging”.
Fitzmaurice’s side face a make-or-break All-Ireland Super 8 clash with Kildare in Fitzgerald Stadium on Saturday evening: lose and they are out of the championship while victory may not even be enough to secure survival, as their progression is dependent on the result in Salthill, where table-toppers Galway host Monaghan.
It’s hard to believe the Kingdom’s season hinges on this one game. Their powerful performances against Clare and Cork in the Munster championship had them talked up as All-Ireland contenders, but stuttering displays against Galway and Monaghan in the past three weeks have seen their stock plummet and the negativity ratchet up throughout the county.
While Fitzmaurice insists the pressure doesn’t bother him, he confesses it is more difficult for the players to drown out the noise.
“It’s not hard for me, but I do think it is hard for the players,” he said.
“At the moment, I am off from work, so I can go into the bunker and be hard to be got at. I did that after the Galway game,” the school principal admitted.
An added pressure that players face in the modern game is criticism on social media. While players always had to face into work after a bad defeat, it is easier than ever for supporters to make their voices heard, often behind the veil of anonymity.
“Whereas I think, for the players, it is challenging when they are out working and meeting people and so much of their lives are on their phones, it is hard to avoid a lot of it (the negativity and the criticisms).
“You are meeting people in the street and people might mean the best in the world, but we can be direct in Kerry and that can be challenging for the players, but look, it is all part of the learning process and the easiest way to create positivity is to win games.”
The 2014 All-Ireland winning manager added that criticism from supporters is part and parcel of management, especially in a county like Kerry where expectations are so high.
“The chat is going on, that goes with the job, I know that.
“I’m sure there’s plenty going on, but for us, we’re just keeping the head down, especially the week after the Galway game, we’d a good bit of regrouping to do to get ourselves organised for a tough away game the following weekend that our season was riding on. I’m sure there’s plenty [of talk from supporters] there, but a couple of wins always sorts that out.”
Securing a spot in the All-Ireland semi-final would make 2018 a satisfactory season, particularly as back
in January, Fitzmaurice spoke about the Kingdom’s three-year plan.
While there is a roadmap planning ahead to 2020, the public in the Kingdom expects results immediately, so, is it difficult to balance the apparent conflict between planning for the future and trying to achieve success in 2018?
“Of course, you are aware that some of the exposure the younger lads are getting at the moment will help them in terms of their long-term development but all we are focused on within the group is the here and now and the Kildare game, and trying to win that and see where that takes us. After that then you can be thinking of the long-term stuff.”
The quick turnaround between rounds one and two in the quarter-final round-robin was something of a blessing for Fitzmaurice, as it meant there was little time to reflect on the disappointment of the Galway defeat.
“It was huge, yes. We were straight into it that Sunday evening (after the Galway game in Croke Park). Everyone was really disappointed and we were all puzzled at where the performance had come from and, by Monday, we had to be gathering ourselves to be ready to go again for Monaghan who were coming off a win over Kildare.
“It was a huge help, getting back on the horse and playing a game straight away is the best cure of the lot and, luckily for us, if it was other seasons for us it would have been game over, ball burst, but we did have another chance at redemption and, as a player, that’s all you want: A chance to go out and prove your point again, and thankfully we had that.”