That’s been a strong theme in Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s mind in recent days.
The switch to midweek dates may have boosted attendances at U21 football championship ties around the country but, for those at the coalface, it increases the importance of getting their preparations right.
The new Kerry U21 football boss was handed an onerous task for tonight’s Munster quarter-final when drawn against a Tipperary outfit still buoyed by a provincial U21 title two years ago and a national minor crown last year.
Having to travel to Thurles only increased that headache with 13 of Fitzmaurice’s squad currently based in Cork studying in UCC and CIT, while others are based at home in Kerry, in college in Limerick and Sneem-Derrynane’s Ian Galvin will be coming from Galway where he is studying.
“It’s difficult for the lads when the game is midweek,” admits Fitzmaurice. “We’ve two guys — Kieran Hurley (UL) and Stephen O’Brien (UCC) — who have exams [on the same day]. What we’ve decided to do is get everyone to travel to Limerick, where we’ll gather, have our pre-match meal, a chat and then travel as a squad together to Semple Stadium. We felt it was better to do it that way rather than try to get everyone to make their own way to Thurles.”
As well as sorting out the minute details for the county U21 squad this week, Fitzmaurice guided the Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne U16½ football team to the Munster Colleges (Frewen Cup) final yesterday with victory over Tralee CBS. It’s a hectic time, yet he has able lieutenants with him in the Kerry set up.
“We have guys with different strengths in our management team. Darragh (Ó Sé) commands huge respect. When he speaks, they really do listen. John Shanahan from Valentia has great experience from the Kerry minors and knows these players well. Harry [O’Neill] then brings a lot of expertise and professionalism after his successes with Dr Crokes. It’s exciting to be involved at this level but you only really enjoy it if the result goes right. Before that it’s about staying focused.”
Kerry may have no player currently involved in Jack O’Connor’s senior squad, yet that did not dilute the competition for places in Fitzmaurice’s starting side, with highly-rated forwards like Gavin O’Grady, Mark Reen and Eanna O’Connor amongst the substitutes. They will need those reserves of strength to overcome Tipperary.
The landscape of Munster football has shifted significantly since Fitzmaurice’s playing days and, as a manager, he now faces a county that is brimming with football confidence.
He said: “I don’t think there’s extra pressure on us because of recent underage defeats. But there is definitely an appreciation in Kerry that this is a very big game as we’ve lost to Tipperary at U21 and minor level in recent years.
“And people are also curious to see how Tipperary are progressing as they’ve won with great panache over the last few years at underage level.
“It was a very tough task to pick the team. Gavin [O’Grady] has had a hamstring injury in recent weeks which saw him miss training but all these subs will be vital in this game.”
On the opposition side Tipperary selector Brian Burke believes the ‘surprise element’ is now gone for his side as they prepare to face Kerry.
“It was a brilliant night for us against Kerry in the 2010 final, but trying to do it again would be a big ask,” he said.
“We’ve had some injury problems which haven’t helped us recently.
“The surprise element we had a couple years ago is gone now. We got an awful trimming against Cork last year and Kerry have some very good people over them.”
TYRONE (U21F v Fermanagh: D McAnenly; B Tierney, D McNally, H P McGeary; N Sludden, S Warnock, T McCann; H Óg Conlan, C Clarke; S Tierney, T Canavan, B McGarvey; D McCurry, C McAliskey, R O’Neill.