Former All-Ireland-winning Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice has claimed it’s “time to change” and to end the tradition of the county champions picking the Kingdom captain.
Crucially, the Finuge man, who managed Kerry for six seasons between 2013 and 2018, believes a mood for change exists, with Monday’s county board meeting expected to vote on the issue.
Kerry and Kilkenny are the last two counties that still allow their senior club champions to nominate the county captain.
East Kerry’s David Clifford recently took on the armband for the county, while Colin Fennelly is the new Cats captain on the back of Ballyhale Shamrocks’ local success.
Both players look like solid selections, but the appointment process hasn’t always been as smooth.
Previous Kerry football captains Gavin White, Shane Murphy, Fionn Fitzgerald, Johnny Buckley, and Bryan Sheehan, for example, have all spent periods on the bench despite being selected by their clubs (or divisions).
“It is time to change it, there’s no doubt about it,” said Fitzmaurice.
“Coming from having been involved when the county champions (selected the captain)... I think even by the end, and particularly for the Dr Crokes club, they won so many championships that the romanticism had kind of gone out of it for them by the end.
“For East Kerry this year it was obviously a huge thing because they haven’t had a Kerry captain for 20 years. But I do think it’s time to change. Maybe two years ago they tried it but there wasn’t an appetite at that time. I think there is now. I’d be hopeful it would be changed.”
Clifford’s nomination as Kerry captain for 2020 prompted concerns that it may be too much responsibility too early.
That fear appeared to be put to bed by the 21-year-old’s debut as skpper against Dublin last Saturday evening when he scored 1-3, including the equalising point, and led the line superbly.
“He’s more than capable,” said Fitzmaurice. “I think the only factor against him is how young he is. But he’s into his third season, he’s a vocal presence in the dressing-room, he will get plenty of support in the dressing-room, he has a strong home environment and will get plenty of support at home which would be important if he does hit a dip in form.
“So I don’t see any downside there. His personality is very grounded, he is not going to get carried away and if anything it might inspire him a bit more.
He has had two seasons and it might give him a bit of an angle to keep trying to improve himself.
It was Fitzmaurice who handed Clifford his Championship debut in 2018, against Clare. That came a matter of months after Clifford’s remarkable 4-4 haul for the Kerry minors in the All-Ireland final defeat of Derry.
A few weeks prior to that, Kerry great Jack O’Shea described Clifford as “the best I’ve ever seen at his age” and claimed he was already ready for senior duty.
That was in August 2017, two days before Kerry’s All-Ireland semi-final replay against Mayo.
Asked if it was a no-brainer to play Clifford in 2018, despite still being a teenager, Fitzmaurice nodded and said he privately agreed with O’Shea about using him in 2017.
“He was ready,” said Fitzmaurice of Clifford in 2018. “It was even something I thought about between the two Mayo games in 2017. I felt at the time it would have been a panic manoeuvre but I think you could have, and I still think he would have done something. But the minute he started training with us he was ready so it was a no-brainer.”
Fitzmaurice also handed Sean O’Shea his Championship debut against Clare in 2018 and said the former minor star is another player with huge leadership qualities.
“He was a member of a leadership group that year from the point of view that the younger generation would have a voice at the top table and he was very effective and very impressive in that leadership group,” said Fitzmaurice.
The emergence of Clifford and O’Shea in particular has given Kerry supporters optimism that they can put a halt to Dublin’s dominance. It also remains to be seen if Jim Gavin’s exit and the appointment of Dessie Farrell works out for the five-in-a-row All-Ireland winners.
“I think it’s a factor for sure,” commented Fitzmaurice, who never got the better of Gavin in a Championship game.
You’d struggle to think of examples in any sport where a team have stayed as hungry and humble for so long so big shoes to fill.
Fitzmaurice himself didn’t close the door on a return to a county role at some point, though he added that he won’t follow the lead of brother-in-law Paul Galvin, the current Wexford boss, by managing outside Kerry.
“No, I wouldn’t manage any other county ever,” said Fitzmaurice.