Give or take a day, it was July 23, 2014 when Jim McGuinness put the finishing touches to his successful plan to beat Dublin. Having managed to run the gauntlet of Ulster, he couldn’t have afforded to scheme any earlier.
“I wasn’t fully sure we were even going to meet them because we had a quarter-final and whatever else to play,” he said in his autobiography Until Victory Always, released last year. “But I knew that if we hoped to beat them, we needed to plan for it well in advance.”
Should Kerry repeat that trick – and by God it would be a trick – November 20, 2015 may go down as the date Éamonn Fitzmaurice began to plot in the likelihood they would face Dublin. That was the day the GAA’s master fixtures were released. Fitzmaurice being Fitzmaurice, he would have realised shortly after losing last year’s All-Ireland final that the Munster champions were due to play the Leinster victors in 2016. But the announcement of the 2016 fixtures schedule gave him a date: August 28. It might as well have been tattooed into his skin.
Clare and Tipperary were hardly just nuisances for Fitzmaurice but they would never have occupied his mind these past three months in which his occupation as a teacher has afforded him the opportunity to twist the microscope on Dublin to an atomic level. Knowing his eye for detail, there is little he doesn’t know about Dublin. Probably no Kerry manager has considered an opposition as thoroughly as the current boss.
If Dublin had drones over Fitzgerald Stadium they would likely relay information back to St Clare’s and Abbotstown that Kerry are buck wild. After they beat Donegal in 2014, Darran O’Sullivan, a substitute that year, released a video of himself careering into the fence in front of the Michael O’Connor Terrace at full pace as he attempted to gather a ball in a training game. What was most pointed about the footage wasn’t the brute force at which O’Sullivan met the wire but the almost indifferent reaction among his team-mates to his collision. The wellbeing of O’Sullivan wasn’t of any concern. Fitzgerald Stadium is a lair of cruelty and pain.
Almost as much as Dublin, the Kerry camp has given new meaning to privacy but there have been indications of just how bloody things have become on Upper Lewis Road. Peter Crowley didn’t make the Munster final after having his nose busted by Johnny Buckley’s forehead in training prior to the game, an injury which required surgery. Others this summer have quietly been benched as a result of behind-closed-doors activity. Would it surprise anyone if another player was to lose out this week?
There would be no tears shed for collateral damage.
To suggest this All-Ireland semi-final has the potential to be one of the most hateful games between Dublin and Kerry isn’t something we do lightly. Dublin have hurt Kerry deep. Not enough, it could be argued, based on their league meetings earlier this year but this season was always going to be about August 28. The grievances players held against each other from last September weren’t going to manifest themselves in spring when another championship date was in the offing.
Fitzmaurice and his players will know their fuses are longer than Dublin’s. That doesn’t mean they’re any cleaner a team. In many ways, they’re not but at least they don’t go around with this notion that they are truly aristocratic. Tradition dictates they are perceived as such but Fitzmaurice has never pretended that his team are anything but one that have had to move with the times. While there was surprise David Gough wasn’t appointed to take charge of the final, his presence here will be key in keeping order when, on occasions, it will be the last thing on some players’ minds.
Jim Gavin has mentioned the word “control” quite often in describing his side’s recent wins. Facing Dublin, Fitzmaurice thumbs the same area of the dictionary but traces his finger over entries like “constrain” and “constrict”. It’s because of Dublin that Kerry have become a team that has been transformed into one that’s hard to beat. It’s quite the compliment when you think about it.
And yet Dublin have regularly broken them. To arrest that slide, it will take the extraordinary. Something almost unpalatable, perhaps. As Dara Ó Cinnéide put in in these pages in May: “It has to be something psychotic to beat Dublin at this stage, totally off the charts, bordering on the outer edge of acceptability in terms of discipline and everything else. You look at the referee and see. Darragh Ó Sé was pulled up last year on comments about Diarmuid Connolly. I don’t mean targeting individuals, just doing something crazy like Derry did defensively in the league but with a better team. It’s going to take something like that.”
McGuinness admitted the three-week build-up from Donegal’s quarter-final to facing Dublin wasn’t long enough and he had to devote most of his waking hours to breaking them down forensically. Fitzmaurice has had four since the win over Clare but in truth he’s been waiting 11 months. Nobody will have smarted more than him after the 2013 and ’15 losses. He might not be able to literally lead his players the way to victory but what he will give them is the map.
Liam Dunne ready for a fight
Despite a number of attempts to undermine him earlier this year and now again, Liam Dunne is intent on sticking around as Wexford manager.
Having completed five years at the helm, it is felt by some officials that his time is up, but then Dunne took the reins in 2011 when nobody else wanted the job.
Undoubtedly, he has contributed to the rise in Wexford’s stock this last while. The win over 2013 All-Ireland finalists Clare in 2014 and the historic victory over Cork this year are not results that should be dismissed. There was also the victory over Waterford the season before they became Division 1 champions.
Much like other counties who have got a bit heady on U21 success, there is obviously a determination to see that progress manifest itself at senior level but it is a slower process in Wexford where, unlike Clare and Waterford, the talent hasn’t been as plentiful. That first SHC win over Cork in 60 years was all the more significant because of the number of players he was missing. No other Liam MacCarthy Cup manager experienced as long an injury list this season.
Some prominent clubs in the county see the sense in Dunne remaining in charge, although there is a clamour from other quarters to put challengers from Cork against him.
But Dunne has done whatever was asked of him. When he was informed he had to change members of his management team last year, he did so. In a recent review, Dunne’s leadership was endorsed. However, the knives that were out for him when his brief holiday in Spain in April was questioned have been brandished again. But Dunne is ready for a fight.
Derek McGrath’s prints all over Déise’s U21 drive
If the success of Clare’s U21s didn’t tell us the lines between the grade and senior county level are becoming more blurred by the year, then Waterford’s drive to an All-Ireland final has once more underlined the phenomenon.
So many of the Banner’s group benefited from senior experience in 2013 and the same is now seen in Waterford, where 12 of the panel have brought their education, not to mention the sense of unity developed under Derek McGrath over the last two years, to the U21 group.
Last year, the U21s’ lack of access to their senior players was cited in the county as the reason behind their Munster semi-final loss to Clare yet it’s been the same situation this year — only twice during the Munster campaign — and there hasn’t been a dickie bird about it. Nor has there been mention of just how sophisticated Waterford’s U21s have been in their play.
Against Antrim this weekend, the professional attitude exhibited by Patrick Curran, Austin Gleeson, the Bennett brothers Shane and Stephen, and Tom Devine was a perfect illustration of what they have gleaned at senior level. Seán Power is doing a fine job but he owes quite the debt to McGrath for his massive investment in youth.
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