Following on from the previous weekend’s failed outing at Croke Park, Kerry are now pointless from their opening two games and find themselves rooted to the bottom of the Division 1 table alongside Mayo and Down.
Unchartered territory this is not, however. As Fitzmaurice pointed out during his post-match debrief at Fitzgerald Stadium, they’ve been here before, not just once but twice in the previous three years.
Defeats to Mayo, Dublin, Kildare and Donegal on the opening four weekends of the 2013 league had Kerry staring down the barrel of Division 2 football heading into the second half of March.
It was a similar story in 2014 as Dublin, Derry, and Mayo marked their card during the opening three rounds of action. The necessary three victories were churned out on both occasions to maintain the county’s Division 1 status and another survival mission now looms following a first ever league defeat to Roscommon on home soil.
“They are all big games for us now,” said Fitzmaurice of their remaining five games, which include away fixtures to Down on February 28, Mayo on March 13 and Monaghan on March 27; there’s also the small matter of hosting top of the table Donegal in between their journeys to Newry and Castlebar.
Marc Ó Sé, Colm Cooper. Kieran Donaghy and Bryan Sheehan will be back in the fold by the time the Kerry bus pulls up outside Páirc Esler in little under three weeks, but as Mikey Sheehy remarked ahead of the Roscommon game: “the last thing you want is to be going up there looking for your first win against a side who could be in a similar pressure situation.”
For Roscommon, they enter the three-week lay-off in a far more positive frame of mind. Survival is still the name of the game for Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell’s charges, but the pressure is lifted somewhat by virtue of achieving their target of taking two points from their opening two games - even if they surprised themselves by taking those points at the expense of Kerry, and not Monaghan.
“We definitely didn’t want to be facing into those three weeks without a win. That would have put us under pressure, particularly after last weekend when we kinda threw the game away,” said Roscommon corner-forward Cathal Cregg.
“After last weekend, we were under a bit of pressure so it is huge to get a win down here. It is the first time we have been in Division one for 13 years and to come down to a county like Kerry and win, it is brilliant. .
“For us to stay up this year will be huge. We will probably need to win another two games, which will be a huge task for us.”
The contributor of four points on Sunday, Cregg says life at the top table is far removed from previous springs sent in Divisions 2 and 3.
“When you make mistakes, you get punished. We were a point up with 70 minutes gone [against Monaghan] and ended up losing by four. There are harsh lessons at this level. We made a lot of mistakes this weekend, but luckily came out with a one-point win.”