Few managers are better placed than Eamonn Fitzmaurice to gauge the benefits of an All-Ireland semi-final replay.
After all, the Kerry manager says last year’s epic battles with Mayo “made the group”.
“By the end of the two games nearly the whole squad had played, which was brilliant for training coming into the final. Dublin have had that this year and I think they’ll be delighted with two such tough tests.
“But that’s not something we can control. We were well checked out in our own semi-final and it was a good battle, a good one to win, and we just have to ensure the intensity in our own sessions are similar to the value that Dublin got. But they got good value out of those two challenges, no doubt about it, we’d be hoping we have enough in the bank.”
Among their assets is Colm Cooper, back from injury. Fitzmaurice expects him to deliver on Sunday. “Since the Munster final replay he’s been on top of his game, enjoying his football and getting better and better. Hopefully his graph will continue to rise and that he’ll have a big final as well, which I would expect him to have.”
The Finuge man isn’t as open about the GAA’s disciplinary system in the wake of the Diarmuid Connolly/DRA fiasco (“I don’t really want to be lighting any fires about the disciplinary system at the moment; evidently it’s not working, that’s what I’d say, but I’m not getting involved in that), but his admiration for Dublin’s achievements is real.
“The most impressive thing about them was what was impressive about Mayo the first day, that when the game seemed to be going away from them they went after it. Mayo were four up and Dublin looked like they were in trouble. Lee Keegan had the chance to go five up, and then the Dublin substitutions made a big difference.
“Alan Brogan made a big difference, McAuley made a massive difference, and obviously Kevin McManamon. They showed the strength of their squad but they really showed mental fortitude when four down.
“Mayo had a goal, the momentum was going away from them... we all know their strength football-wise, particularly in attack, but I was very impressed with their character when tested.”
Fitzmaurice says Dublin have had the upper hand on Kerry in recent meetings, but doesn’t feel it’s “festered” in the Kerry psyche. “I think any team that’s beaten you as Dublin have in the championship, and in the 2013 league game in Killarney, the 2014 league game in Croke Park... fair enough, we won this year but the championship defeats, in 2011 and 2015, any team that has the upper hand on you, of course you’re going to want to beat them.
“That’s natural, but I’d see it as more of a positive rather than a negative place. We know they have our number to a certain extent but that if we play to the top of our game we’ll really test them.
“There is something special about Dublin-Kerry, the Hill 16 factor and so on. It’s a game every Kerry player wants to play in. It is the same from a management point of view.
“But especially when you get to an All-Ireland final it doesn’t matter who’s there, you just want to win the game.” So winning two titles in a row wouldn’t be a motivation?
“No, not at all. You look back on it afterwards but it’s not an issue. Once we came back from our holidays the 2014 win was parked, and it was all about trying to win all we could this year.
“So far we’ve won a Munster championship and that’s it, we want to try to win an All-Ireland and that’s it.
“Afterwards you might say, ‘wasn’t it great to win two in a row’ or something, but we’re not looking on it as motivation or anything like that.”
He points to Dublin’s incremental improvements over several seasons, starting with defeat at Kerry’s hands in 2009. “I’d say they learned a lot from that game. We came in under the radar after an indifferent qualifier campaign and then cut loose, had a day where everything goes well for you. They had a day where nothing goes well for you. We got ahead of them and kept going and going, but I think they probably learned a lot from that game.
“They were within a point of the final in 2010, losing by a point to Cork; they won in 2011, would probably feel they should have beaten Mayo in 2012, won it in 2013, Donegal beat them in the semi last year and now they’re back in a final. I’d say they’ve learned a lot, but while there are still some cross-overs, there have been a lot of changes to both groups as well since then. If you went through both teams for the final I’m not sure how many would remain from 2009.”
What Dublin have in their ranks now are players with an eye for goal.
“It’s part of their game,” says Fitzmaurice. “When they get goal they get life from that, and the Hill really gets involved. It’s no coincidence that they often get their second goal soon after their first one.
“It’s something we have to protect against, and we’ve conceded goals in the championship this year. If they get a goal we have to ensure they don’t get too much momentum from that — similar to the Kilkenny hurlers a few years ago, getting a couple of goals to kill the game in a short space of time. We’ll have to mind it.”
So he’d like to avoid a shoot-out?
“I don’t mind as long as we come out the right side of it. We didn’t in 2013, when it was a shoot-out. If you’re conceding three goals to Dublin you’re probably not going to win the game.”
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