Fitzmaurice broke from character during Kerry’s pre-final press briefing to hit out at claims in the media that his team had grown increasingly defensive, negative and, at times, cynical.
Walsh said his personal opinion is that the claims were well off and described their actual mentality as “the opposite really, you have to attack teams, that’s how you win”.
The 32-year-old forward, who kicked two important points against Dublin in Sunday’s one-point Allianz league final win, said that Fitzmaurice’s public show of support for the players was warmly received and inspiring.
“I actually kept away from it, I didn’t know exactly what Eamonn had said but obviously I got rumblings that he was highlighting that we were portrayed as the instigators of negative play and things like that,” said Walsh.
“We just felt Eamonn was putting his neck on the line for us, and he’s done that for us so many times. So (winning) was a bit of payback for him as well, that he had put himself in that awkward position where he felt he had to come out and back us so we wanted to back Eamonn on the field of play. The only way we were going to do that was by, not just performing, but by winning. And we did that.”
It was just Kerry’s third win over Dublin in 14 competitive encounters this decade, a barren run that includes two All-Ireland wins for Dublin, two semi-final wins and last year’s league final success. Walsh said that, as a result, the overriding feeling after Sunday’s win was not that they’d claimed the league title but that they’d finally beaten Dublin.
“We’ve gotten that monkey off our back, it just happened to be in a league final,” Walsh said. “Obviously we didn’t beat them in the group stage, we drew, and we just wanted to go one better than that. That was the aim and that was my first thought this morning. It was never really a must-win, there’s always a bigger game coming down the line in the summer. But the more they were adding on, to that record that we hadn’t beaten them, it was grating on us.
“It was just asking the question of us, further and further, could we beat them?
“And we knew we could but we needed to prove it to everybody else. People did question us, whether we could do it at all, not that we take too much of notice of what is being said.
“We’re confident in our own group and in our own ability but that winning feeling is what you want, nobody likes losing. We’ve basically gotten sick of that feeling so it was nice to win.”
Kerry’s win arrived with neat symmetry as they were the last team to beat Dublin before the back-to-back All-Ireland champions embarked on a 36-game unbeaten run.
“It can get frustrating,” admitted Walsh. “As much as you do try to ignore it, you do get frustrated. When you’re playing a sport and you’re playing frustrated, you don’t express yourself. It makes you do stuff that isn’t productive. It leads to negativity in your game so this kind of releases the shackles a bit now, having this win.”
Kerry fired 20 points at Croke Park and Walsh said it highlighted their commitment to attacking play, contrary to the claim of Dublin legend Paul Curran who said they should be ‘ashamed’ of their increasingly defensive, stifling tactics.
“Is that what he said?” retorted Walsh. “It’s silly to think any team can win without having a solid defensive system. Dublin have a solid defensive system but they also go at teams, that’s what we’re trying to replicate as well.”
Walsh was aware of the statistic that in the five major games Kerry and Dublin have contested this decade — the 2011 and 2015 All-Ireland finals, the 2013 and 2016 semi-finals, and last year’s league final — Dublin had cumulatively outscored Kerry by 5-17 to 0-9 from the 60th minute onwards. Dublin won that particular battle again on Sunday, by 1-3 to 0-3, though, crucially, couldn’t rescue a result this time.
“They maybe outscored us again in the last few minutes but we had enough of a league to hang on to,” said Walsh.
Meanwhile, Walsh rubbished claims by pundit Joe Brolly that the recently retired Colm Cooper wasn’t a true leader for Kerry and “didn’t have that warrior spirit needed to turn games around”.
“Joe likes to be controversial. I wouldn’t agree with him. ‘Gooch’ has delivered at every level, consistently. You’re actually talking about a brand here in the corporate sense, ‘Gooch’ actually created his own brand. He was the ‘Gooch’ and he created that brand because he was just phenomenal every day, and he was consistently doing that. That puts him down as one of the greatest, for me.”
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