KIERAN SHANNON: In Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s eyes the word untouchable just doesn’t exist

Half an hour into the unforgettable game that made Dublin look like startled earwigs, Tadhg Kennelly was summoned from the cushioned dugout in the stand.

Although Kerry were 12 points up and on course to putting on one of the most astonishing team performances Croke Park had ever seen, their management team had identified how it could be even better.

Tommy Walsh was to make way, Kennelly was to come in.

Kennelly had started the previous game against Antrim but had been dropped for this watershed All-Ireland quarter-final against a fancied Dublin side.

“Look, your hand’s not right, you were fumbly at the weekend,” Jack O’Connor had told him when calling him aside at the start of training.

Kennelly would protest that his hand was fine but O’Connor wasn’t for changing. “We’ll bring you on early in the game and use your legs and energy,” he’d casually rule before turning and heading about the business of starting the session.

O’Connor would be as good as his word, springing Kennelly from the bench before even half-time, but the Listowel man was still seething. He hadn’t come back from Australia for this.

In his book Unfinished Business, Kennelly would recount that as he took off his tracksuit top, a Kerry selector would come up to him and say, “Show us what you’re made of.” Kennelly would retort with a stare, “I’m going to shove it up your fucking arse!”

He would too, tearing it up upon his introduction and going on to win the All-Ireland and an All Star.

In Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s eyes the word untouchable just doesn’t exist

That Kerry selector who stoked Kennelly on the line that day in 2009 was one Eamonn Fitzmaurice.

And since he’s succeeded O’Connor as manager, he’s developed an even greater appetite for dropping big names and seeking a reaction from them.

Consider this: No Kerry player has started every championship game over the past two summers.

Donegal have eight players who have. Mayo have six who’ve started in every championship match the past three years.

In Kerry nobody is an ever-present, nobody is untouchable.

Brian Kelly played in goals every game last summer. This year he hasn’t featured in any, with Brendan Kealy taking his spot.

Marc Ó Sé was famously dropped for the All-Ireland semi-final replay against Mayo last year.

Another veteran, Killian Young, was left out for the drawn game, but like Ó Sé, would respond as Fitzmaurice would want, and has started every championship game since.

Peter Crowley may have finished last season as an All Star but he’d been dropped for the Munster final and excluded again for the All-Ireland quarter-final.

This year Crowley was once more omitted for the Munster final replay and the All-Ireland quarter- final.

Instead Aidan O’Mahony came in. But even O’Mahony’s medal count was no immunity from being left off the last day against Tyrone, with Crowley again coming in.

Fionn Fitzgerald’s last kick of a ball for Kerry was the equalising point in the Munster final. “And what have I done for you lately?” Clearly, not enough.

Move up to midfield. David Moran may be in line to win a second consecutive All Star but he was still pulled ashore with over 25 minutes to go against Tyrone.

In Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s eyes the word untouchable just doesn’t exist

Last year in Ennis he had the ignominy of being taken off 10 minutes before half-time, Fitzmaurice swiftly calculating Gary Brennan’s mobility was too much for him; it would take until the All Ireland semi-final for Moran to regain a starting spot. The past two summers Bryan’s Sheehan’s craft and freetaking has been valuable but not indispensible.

He was probably the most influential player in the Munster final replay, pointing bombs from range at a time when scores with the wintery conditions were at such a premium, yet the game after the following one he was back on the bench.

Even the remarkably consistent Anthony Maher was left out for the drawn Munster final, the one time Fitzmaurice was perhaps too cute for his own good.

Upfront, it’s ridiculous the depth of options Fitzmaurice has cultivated as much as he’s inherited.

In Mayo, Kevin McLoughlin has started 50 of their 51 past league and championship games; the only time he was given a day off was for a dead-rubber league game against Derry last year. In Kerry there is no such lack of rest or competition in the half-forward line.

Donnchadh Walsh was a sub the past two championship openers. Stephen O’Brien has been never been on or off the team for more than two consecutive championship games; four times over the past two summers he’s been dropped yet each time he’s bounced back, to the point he’s made himself almost undroppable. Almost.

Johnny Buckley was left off against Kildare. You saw how he took his chance the next day, scoring the team’s first three points against Tyrone.

In Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s eyes the word untouchable just doesn’t exist

Or rewind to last year. Declan O’Sullivan ran the Munster final. Yet within two games he was on the bench, and would remain an impact sub for the rest of the campaign. Injuries confined him to that; other options allowed Fitzmaurice the luxury of that.

In a way Fitzmaurice has been a godsend to every club manager in the country. Worried about telling a long-serving established player that he’s being left off the starting 15 for an upcoming championship game?

Just point them in the direction and example of Kerry.

Where Kieran Donaghy kicked a point right on halftime against Tyrone the last day yet didn’t start for the second half.

Where Paul Geaney kicks 1-2 against Tipperary yet is left off for the next day against Cork. Where he comes in and scores another 1-2 in the replay yet the game after the next one is back on the bench, only to come off it and notch three points against Tyrone.

Where Barry John Keane kicks three points in the drawn game against Cork yet is left off the next day.

Where Darran O’Sullivan comes off the bench and blitzes Kildare for a couple of goals and yet doesn’t kick up that he’s not starting the next day.

Where even Gooch was dropped for the Munster finals after starting the first day out against Tipp.

If they’re all able to accept it for a higher cause, why shouldn’t any player of yours? It’s all the more commendable that Fitzmaurice is pulling this off in Kerry. Where’s there such An Fear Laidír tradition where John Egan wouldn’t talk to Dwyer for years for being taken off in the 1984 All-Ireland, where Tomás and Marc Ó Sé have stormed off home after being taken off at half-time in key qualifier games.

This column more than once has cited Pat Riley’s concept of innocence, that by having a team-first ethos rather than a Disease of Me complex, everything you believe you deserve eventually comes your way.

Last year Kieran Donaghy exemplified it. He’d articulate it too, about how he committed to not sulking.

“I looked at myself at certain times in July and August and said, ‘Maybe I’m going, but you’re going to have to dig in, keep going, suck it up and your break will come. And when your break comes around, you must be ready to take it.’”

That spirit of innocence would serve Donaghy well, but he was fuelled by something else. As Weeshie Fogarty remarked in conversation with us over the winter, Donaghy’s intervention against Mayo was prompted by “pure thickness”.

That ability to appeal to both the more reasoned and primal nature of his players has been the secret to how Fitzmaurice has kept a defending champion side chomping for more.

He has some hard calls to make in the coming days. Top, proud players will be told they’re being held in reserve. During next Sunday’s game, a number of them will be motioned down to the sideline and challenged to show what they’re made of.

No one will take greater pleasure than Fitzmaurice in watching them try to shove it up his fucking arse.

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