Éamonn Fitzmaurice might not be pacing the Fitzgerald Stadium sideline this Sunday but for many in Mayo he might as well be.
When David Brady condemned as “disgraceful” Fitzmaurice’s remarks about Mayo’s gamesmanship in last month’s Irish Examiner he was voicing what most of his county felt about the former Kerry manager’s column.
Now that the fixture is confirmed, Peter Keane mightn’t be too thankful to his predecessor for lowering the blade as he did on Kerry’s opponents.
Keane might remember how claims by the Cork management about the tactical fouling of Mayo’s forwards Kevin McLoughlin and Cillian O’Connor came back to bite them at this juncture five years ago when Horan was also manager.
“Our character was challenged in the lead-up to this game by the Cork management, which I think is unprecedented in Gaelic football where a management team name players,” said Horan following the one-point win.
“For us it was taking the integrity of two of our players and of our team — I think that’s something that’s disgraceful and they should be ashamed of what they’ve done.
Does that make victory sweeter for us? It probably does. I just think it’s a new low when you have opposition management naming specific players and taking their integrity and their good name.
On Saturday, Horan chose not to address the charge of cynicism levelled against his team by Fitzmaurice, that they feigned injuries to waste time when they were in a leading position.
Instead, he dealt with Kieran McGeeney’s comments on the same matter and intimated the Armagh manager had been sore in claiming Mayo had gone down with “10 or 11 head injuries”.
Horan cleverly switched focus from the game in Castlebar to the one in Limerick to make his point that Mayo were not cynical and implied it was Galway who ended up with 12 men having had three men shown black cards while all 15 of his men remained on the field.
A lot of Mayo’s longetivity is down to their street-smarts but some of what Fitzmaurice threw at them was a little rich.
Highlighting that Diarmuid O’Connor hid behind a TV camera in the hope of being unmarked for a free in last year’s Division 1 meeting in Castlebar was a form of gamesmanship when Fitzmaurice took pleasure in gaining entry to train in Páirc Uí Chaoimh prior to the Munster final a few months later lacked self-awareness.
Fitzmaurice has called out cynicism before, most notably Dublin’s in 2017 when he felt he had to in the wake of former Dublin star Paul Curran saying Kerry had brought negative football to a different level.
He mentioned the 2011 final when Declan O’Sullivan was “taken out” by Ger Brennan, Dublin’s unseemly finish to deny Mayo in the 2013 final and Brian Ó Beaglaoich being put in a headlock by Cormac Costello in the closing stages of the 2016 final.
With all three examples, he was right and he did concede Kerry were no angels themselves but stressed there had to be “balance”.
Kerry have been accused of cynicism going back years, namely Billy Morgan in2006 and former Donegalselector Damien Diver who claimed it played a largepart of them winning the 2014 All-Ireland final.
The tactical fouls dig made at Mayo by Ronan McCarthy and Brian Cuthbert five years ago could easily have been applied to some of Kerry’s attackers.
As much as Gaelic football has moved on, some traditional sensibilities continue: a foul made in the opposition’s half is never perceived the same as one committed elsewhere. Look at how Galway captain Damien Comer fouled three times in quick succession in Limerick on Saturday, one which bordered on a black card, and avoided a card.
It’s unlikely a team as green as Kerry are now can be as wily as Mayo. However, Horan gave them plenty of ammunition after the Division 1 final when he said Mayo could have won by “10 or 12” points instead of four. Horan dismissed the relevancy of his words to Kerry people but he doesn’t do himself justice. Plenty of his “Kerry friends”, as he called them back in 2012, will hope the remark comes back to haunt him.
Things don’t get any less spiky for Kerry the following weekend against Donegal, considering how heated their League meetings of late have been.
That shouldn’t be the case on the other side of the Super 8 draw where Dublin don’t experience rivalry until Round 3 when they travel to Omagh.
Cork this weekend are simply hoping to be competitive against the All-Ireland champions — it seems a lifetime ago that Philly McMahon and Michael Shields exchanged blows in the Hogan Stand tunnel or Pat Gilroy was ecstatic having beaten Cork in a Round 2 League game.
This weekend, Croke Park is a sandpit, Fitzgerald Stadium the bearpit.