Driving north to Ballybofey gave me plenty of road and thinking time to mull over what’s next for Kerry football.

Replacing Eamonn Fitzmaurice isn’t easy, and the choice will define whether Kerry harnesses or fritters away a special group of young players.

It is also the most important decision the new chairman and his executive will make.

There’s no shortage of fellas who want the gig.

On the radio yesterday I heard John Evans, and while he didn’t say he wanted the job, he certainly didn’t close the door on the possibility. Liam Kearns would feel his name should be in the hat, and John Sugrue has been impressive in Laois.

It’s a big ask for Peter Keane to go from Kerry minor to senior manager, but people who have worked with him rate him very highly.

It would be a big move by the board to go with him, but if they go back to Jack O’Connor, what is that saying to aspiring coaches in the county?

The county board executive went out on a limb last autumn and hung their hat on Eamonn for another three years. It was a decision that raised eyebrows and there’s been little this season to indicate that Eamonn was persuading the rump in the county things were getting better.

Saturday’s win over Kildare was too little too late.

The damage was done in Croke Park against Galway and given what happened in Clones, one could only conclude Kerry were lucky to be still fighting for something at the weekend.

You can’t dress it up any other way.

Of course, in almost every county, if you win six out of six provincial titles, an All-Ireland and a National League, you would have hero status. But not in Kerry.

Is Éamonn right to go? Ask me in 12 months. Is a fresh voice and a new approach going to make the difference? Only time can tell that.

Éamonn felt that he needed more time and breathing space with the younger players. Will the new manager get that? Ultimately Éamonn’s longevity went against him.

But I’d be disappointed with myself if I was one of the senior players on this Kerry team. Of all the years the manager needed his senior players to stand up, this was the year.

Manner of Éamonn Fitzmaurice exit just not right

Many not only failed to deliver but didn’t play enough matches — and that’s something I keep returning to.

Éamonn has gone with the likes of Killian Young in the Super 8s — presumably on the basis of experience, because it can’t have been game form as he’s played hardly any competitive games in 2018 with club or county.

People think I go on an awful lot about fellas not playing enough — that’s why.

When Éamonn is wondering where the negativity is coming from amongst football people, that is certainly a legitimate gripe.

Paul Geaney and Paul Murphy are regarded as two of the top players in the country — could you say they had good seasons? They should be shining lights for Kerry — along with several of their more experienced colleagues.

It’s not very long ago the Kerry dressing room was littered with lads fighting to be first out of the trenches.

Darragh Ó Se, Seamus Moynihan, Declan O’Sullivan, they’d take it on the chin and come back for more.

No matter what was being said in the media and on the streets, there was a group who’d pull us all together behind closed doors. I didn’t sense or see that in 2018.

Has Kerry even developed a discernible plan how they want to play? Defensively, they chopped and changed and the performance against Galway was unacceptable and someone has to be accountable for that.

It wasn’t good enough, so, of course, questions were going to be asked.

Éamonn isn’t the first Kerry manager to get it in the neck — Jack O’Connor, Pat O’Shea, Paidi, right back to Micko, they were calling for his head after the 1977 semi-final defeat to Dublin. And we know what happened next.

What blindsided me totally was that Éamonn made the announcement so soon. It was all very un-Éamonn like.

Usually he’d let things sit for a while and process all the angles before coming to a considered decision.

That he didn’t on this occasion indicates this has been building for a lot longer than people think.

Looking at some of his comments from Saturday, you could sense he was upset by the negative vibe around the place and how it was negatively influencing the younger players.

I know what he’s talking about when it comes to hate mail. I’ve had that, and it’s not nice.

It puts you in a place where you re-evaluate everything, including your involvement in the GAA.

By removing himself from the picture, he has literally taken one for the team.

The sad thing is that the perpetrators of spite go sniggering back behind their keyboards. It’s just not something you associated with the GAA.

I’ve been in a dressing room with this guy. The manner of his going saddened me, it just wasn’t right. It didn’t sit well with me.

Manner of Éamonn Fitzmaurice exit just not right

The commitment and leadership he has shown as a player, selector, and manager underlines not only the type of man he is, but the type of Kerry man he is.

His successor has material to work with. A lot of people could see David Clifford was the real deal but I’ve been surprised at how rapid his progress has been.

What has improved most is his temperament. I watched him in a league game in Clones earlier in the year and they were tearing at him, a real welcome to senior football.

But the second time he went to Clones two weeks ago he was ready for it and took everything in his stride. Pat O’Shea once said to me you can be 19 and be a leader of a team if you want to be. He’s already a leader, but he shouldn’t be the leader at 19.

He has landed 4-13 in three Super 8 games.

Kerry need a manager now who will build a style of play, integrate those talented young fellas, and develop a better defensive shape — 1-17 conceded against Monaghan, 2-16 against Kildare, with 14 men for the second half — those problems were well advertised in the spring.

It should be an early priority for his replacement.


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