In a wide-ranging interview aired on Radio Kerry’s Terrace Talk yesterday evening, the Kerry football manager opened up on the less than harmonious relations between those inside the Kerry camp and those outside of it.
“We the management give everything we have for Kerry and to try and improve the lads. At times, I do think there is a them and us,” Fitzmaurice acknowledged, “there is no them and us. It is all us. It is all Kerry. We are all in it together; management, players, supporters, clubs. Everyone is striving for the same thing.
“We have to give the supporters something to cheer and then the supporters have to back us through thick and thin, both in games and after games. When you get that dynamic right, it can be fierce energetic. That collective spirit can be very powerful.
“Ultimately, in Kerry, you have to be successful. When you are successful, it is grand. When you are not, there is going to be question marks. I’m comfortable with that.”
Fitzmaurice says he pays no heed to external criticism of his management or team and that while every supporter is entitled to their opinion, they do not impact on how he carries out the role of Kerry manager.
“I don’t see what is in the papers, especially for the championship. I read nothing. I am not on social media. I am very private. I stick to my own couple of friends and my family.
“I’ve enough of expertise around me without wondering what every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks. Everyone has an opinion and that’s healthy. Ultimately, and with all due respect to people, their opinions don’t count. Our opinions count. That’s it. That’s what I trust.
“My family, my siblings, my wife Tina, we all went into this with our eyes wide open. We know what is at stake and how important football is in Kerry. If things are going well, everything is hunky-dory. Then when results are going against you, it is challenging. We are tough enough. We keep the head down, we plough on and try to get the results.”
Now in his sixth year in the post, Fitzmaurice stands over the decisions he has made during his time in charge. But he can appreciate why supporters, at times, do not understand the decision to start a certain player given the locked gates outside of Fitzgerald Stadium at summertime.
“One of the decisions I made was to close the gates while we were training for the championship. If everyone was inside watching, the whole country would know that a player had a knock or he wasn’t going well in training. You just can’t have that anymore. Because of that, there is a lack of context, at times. People don’t understand where decisions are coming from.
“That’s what being a manager is. We don’t have the value of hindsight. In championship, of course, we have lost a couple of big games, but we have won an awful lot of big games, as well. I wouldn’t change any of those decisions because you are making them at the time and they are discussed inside out and upside down. When they are wrong, you learn from it and you try and make a better decision the next time.
“I love working with the lads and the management. It is very fulfilling when you are working on things and they start to come together.
“There is only one thing that will make supporters happy [the All-Ireland] and even at that, there’ll be a few holes picked in it. Mikey Sheehy had a great story about the year Kerry beat Roscommon, 1980. Mikey got a goal, punched it in. He met a fella in Rock Street the following week who wanted to know why he didn’t kick it in. Kerry had won three in-a-row at that stage. Short-term, a win on June 3 in the Munster semi-final and we’ll go from there.”
Fitzmaurice doesn’t go along with the theory that his team have become a defensive side and, in the process, abandoned Kerry’s traditional attacking style.
On the injury front, James O’Donoghue is almost back to full health after damaging his calf on the opening weekend of the league in January.
“Hopefully, he’ll get a club game or two in over the next couple of weeks and get that bit of sharpness back into him.”
Donnchadh Walsh, Anthony Maher and Kieran Donaghy have all returned to the fold after being marked absent during the league. Defender Killian Young will remain sidelined through injury for another three to four weeks.
Continued Fitzmaurice: “Age doesn’t count in our set-up. From David Clifford right up to Kieran Donaghy, it’ll come down to form during the summer. The lads that are back on the experienced side, they are not just there from the point of view of experience. They are there because they can play and because they can bring something.”