Kingdom believe in man on a mission

Some called it tapping up, others described it as a coup, but there was little equivocation about Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s motives when he approached Mayo trainer Cian O’Neill in August 2012: the man had a plan.

Kingdom believe in man on a mission

Coming prior to Mayo’s semi-final win over Dublin, it was a bold move. The nature of it matched the necessity of the cause: Kerry had fallen back in the strength and conditioning stakes, only the best would do. O’Neill’s services had to be procured.

Two years on, this group of players have caught up with the likes of Mayo and Donegal. Dublin, who have been benefiting from Bernard Dunne’s regimental boxing training, remain ahead in that department but Kerry are no longer simply coping. The likes of Jonathan Lyne, who was more pinball than a bumper in a league game against Mayo three years ago, is no longer easily pushed away so easily.

But just as Kerry are keeping up in one aspect, they now find themselves deprived of Colm Cooper for the season and James O’Donoghue for Sunday’s Munster semi-final against Clare. Picture a set of teeth with the front two knocked out.

Kerry, having had to cope, must do so again at least until O’Donoghue’s shoulder is healed. But they will, because of the man at the helm. Football is blessed with some exceptional managers in Gavin, McGuinness and Harte but Fitzmaurice is one too. He is the reason why Kerry fans haven’t been up in arms. Just as they appreciate the crossroads the senior team are at right now, they know Fitzmaurice will point them in the right direction.

The team he’s named for the weekend features five starting Championship debutants — Brian Kelly, Paul Murphy, the Geaneys, Michael and Paul, and Stephen O’Brien. Kieran Donaghy is named on the bench as Killian Young makes his first start since his serious ankle injury last year.

It’s quite the transformation but here is a manager who had to redesign a defence ahead of last year’s All-Ireland semi-final with Dublin and then dream it all up again when he had to replace half of them during the game. Yet his Kerry were one point in the ascendancy in the final minute of normal time.

He is blessed with what Buddhists, or Bunk from TV’s The Wire would call “soft eyes” — a higher state of awareness allowing him to pick on the minutiae but relevant things around him. In this newspaper in January he explained his attention to detail not only in preparation but observation The ball boys in Croke Park, his regard for Gavin, Kevin McManamon’s positioning as a second-half sub.

How he empowered Jack Sherwood prior to the Dublin game last year gave an insight into Fitzmaurice the manager. Telling him and him only that when McManamon arrived into the game, he would be too in order to shepherd him.

That Tomás Ó Sé and Paul Galvin among others stayed on longer than they might have anticipated was not just out of respect for their erstwhile team-mate but his high competency as a manager. He wouldn’t be so easily accepted in Kerry if there wasn’t a blend of roguishness about him too. Before last year’s semi-final, he suggested Dublin “could wipe the floor with us”. Yet in the post-match interview he said: “We weren’t being given much of a chance today but we felt very differently about it... I was proven wrong. We just came up short.”

As such a young manager as he is in charge of a county with the most storied football history, Fitzmaurice should feel more pressure than most but has shown little indication of it.

Without Cooper, most people figure Kerry for All-Ireland quarter-finalists even if they are the last team out in the Championship. Privately, Fitzmaurice won’t consider them anything but title contenders. His players won’t either. Because he’s the man with the plan.

KERRY (Munster SFC v Clare): B Kelly (Legion); P Murphy (Rathmore), M Ó Sé (An Ghaeltacht), S Enright (Tarbert); P Crowley (Laune Rangers), K Young (Renard), F Fitzgerald (Dr Crokes); A Maher (Duagh), D Moran (Kerins O’Rahillys); Darran O’Sullivan (Glenbeigh-Glencar); B Sheehan (St Mary’s), M Geaney (Dingle); S O’Brien (Kenmare), Declan O’Sullivan (Dromid Pearses), P Geaney (Dingle).

Subs: B Kealy (Kilcummin), A O’Mahony (Rathmore), K O’Leary (Dr Crokes), M Griffin (St Michael’s/Foilmore), J Lyne (Legion), BJ Keane (Kerins O’Rahillys), P Kilkenny (Glenbeigh/Glencar), D Casey (Dr Crokes), P O’Donoghue (St Mary’s), K Donaghy (Austin Stacks), D Walsh (Cromane).

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