He is still finding his way as Kerry coach, but Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s open-door approach to media duties has already won him kudos from the laptop brigade.
And so when he was asked after yesterday’s attritional league encounter in Tralee why so many teams were now opting for the mass defence model, he was typically unequivocal.
“Because getting bodies behind the ball means you’re going to win games,” shrugged Fitzmaurice in a tacit acceptance that toil is now king.
“By doing that, you’re going to make it very hard for teams to put up big scores. You’re keeping it tight,” the Kerry coach admitted.
His side were again guilty yesterday of lateral (a fancy word for sideways) passing in the first period, when Cork dropped 13 men behind the ball. Not having the sorcery of Colm Cooper inside to play off Kieran Donaghy might also have been a deterrent, but Fitzmaurice accepted that destruction trumps inspiration.
“Look at the teams that have won All-Irelands in the last few years. Dublin in 2011 were very good at getting bodies behind the ball and breaking at pace and they had good inside-forwards. They kicked the ball a bit more than Donegal, who won last year. They also get a lot of bodies behind the ball, so it’s the key to success. It’s the way football has evolved so we just have to keep trying to figure out ways to break down these defensive set-ups. At the moment, though, I would accept it’s not a great spectacle.”
Proponents of the swarm defence will contend that it is up to the opposition to find a way to counter it. On the basis that Kerry haven’t scored a league goal since the opening day in Castlebar, and have only managed 49 points in six games, they’ve got their own substantive issues to deal with before tabling style for debate. Yesterday no Kerry forward scored from play until the 52nd minute.
“I think that’s indicative of the way the game has gone,” added Fitzmaurice. “There’s a lot of bodies back behind the ball. It’s not an issue... as the year goes on and the ground hardens up, we’ll probably get more scores from play. It’s not something I’m unduly worried about.”
He said the team’s desperation for two points, to ensure the trip to Omagh was relevant in the context of remaining in Division One, was the overriding factor in yesterday’s victory over Cork.
“Cork were like us earlier in the league, with the number of injuries they have. Colm O’Neill, Eoin Cadogan and Graham Canty would have been big losses for them, and they didn’t have the same desperation for points as we did. It was a day just to get two points.”
The points mean that their trip to Oceanico’s Amendoeira Golf Resort in the Algarve this week isn’t just about Championship preparation. Five days after they return, they’ll be experiencing a different sort of heat in Omagh.
“That won’t change what we’re doing in Portugal,” insisted the Kerry coach. “We’ve a plan in place and we’ve had it in place since way back, so it’ll be the same thing. We’re back on the Tuesday so that’ll be sufficient time for fellas to recover ahead of Tyrone on the Sunday. Portugal was always about the Championship.”
Aidan O’Mahony and David Moran — who suffered a minor shoulder injury setback on his long road to recovery from cruciate ligament damage — should both be okay to travel, making it 31 players in total flying out from Farranfore.
Conor Counihan’s issues are not as pressing in league terms but he didn’t cut a contended figure after yesterday’s setback.
He indicated that yesterday’s defensive set-up was as much about tactical options as missing forwards. “We are trying out different tactics at different stages. Whether you are missing players or not, you still have to try and play to different plans and try to adapt. This time we decided to go that way, and we’ll adapt as the year goes on.”
But he admitted: “(The injuries) tailored things to a certain extent but I’m not in the business of making excuses. We were beaten on the day. You have to accept that.
“Whether it was psychological or not, the fact they were probably on two points, they had a bit of an edge to them, more than we had. I wouldn’t be pleased (with the performance). We made a lot of silly mistakes on the ball and we didn’t work hard enough — and that’s disappointing. You get 70 minutes to do it and if you don’t do it, there isn’t much point crying about it afterwards.”
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