The Kerry U21s throttled Tipperary in last weekend’s McGrath Cup opener and while a more experienced panel has been assembled for Sunday’s trip to Mallow, the Kerry manager will be taking another look at the mainstays from O’Connor’s panel during the early rounds of the league.
Fitzmaurice is also hopeful an extended run for the county in this year’s U21 championship will ensure these younger players are ready for senior action come summer.
Brian Ó Beaglaoich and Tom O’Sullivan’s involvement last year aside, Fitzmaurice has tended not to opt for youth when it comes to selecting his match-day 26 for either league or championship. His comments this week, however, would suggest he’s interested in working with players from the three All- Ireland minor winning sides.
“I have to be patient because it’s a big step up and we have to develop the players at a rate that’s realistic, but if a couple of them come through and start or play some role in the championship, it will be great for us,” said the Kerry boss.
“It’s getting to a time now where we need these fellas to be stepping up so you’d be hopeful the U21 campaign this year would go a bit longer. This would mean they’d be in the shop window more and that they would be playing more and more big games and come summertime they would be ready for us.
“The big advantage we have this year is there were so many of the U21s training with us last summer and we know what they are capable of. We have a much better feel for them than we would have had this time last year.”
New faces who’ve been drafted into Fitzmaurice’s panel include Adrian Spillane, Jack Barry, Kevin McCarthy, Ronan Shanahan and Shane Murphy. The latter, however, is currently training with Dr Crokes as they prepare for their upcoming All-Ireland semi-final against Corofin.
“There are a few fellas that will be coming back a bit later and a few fellas that haven’t yet decided on their future. Podge O’Connor has moved to San Francisco so he is gone from the panel. We’re good with injuries for once. Anthony Maher has a small bit of a niggle but he’ll be fine towards end of the month.”
Having given his players a free pass for a large chunk of December, what’s he expecting from this Sunday’s clash against Cork?
“Any time you play Cork it’s a big game and there is a kind of freshness to that challenge because of the fact we didn’t meet them last summer. I’d imagine they are going to be very keen to get off to a good start this year. If you could get into a McGrath Cup final it would be great because it would be another game in the build up to the league. I am more comfortable with our lead into the league this year. Last year, we had our first training session on January 14 so it was very late and it told against Dublin and Roscommon. We should be in better stead going up to Donegal.”