Éamonn Fitzmaurice can empathise with his Cork counterpart, Peadar Healy. Not many people know just how lonely a road inter-county management can be.
“It is,” says Fitzmaurice, “And you can be very isolated, but in any management set-up, and I’m sure Peadar is the same with the people around him, that they all know how hard they’re working, trying to achieve. When you have that solidarity around you I don’t think you take a huge amount of notice of what’s going on outside.
“Going into the job you know that’s going to be part of it. Peadar has good experience with Conor Counihan, he’d have known that’d be part of it, but I’m sure he’s just keeping the head down and working hard. All they need is one big win and everything else is forgotten.”
Other parts of it are easily forgotten, too.
Fitzmaurice has been juggling the retirement of Colm Cooper and Brendan O’Sullivan’s drug test in recent weeks. “There are a load of different elements to the job and you just try to do your best. The most enjoyable element is when you’re on the field with the players or with the management team, plotting how to get better or the downfall of the opposition.
“There are other sides of it too, not as glamorous or rewarding, but they’re part of the job and you get on with it. You try to deal with that as well as you can from the point of view of the group.”
Cork come into this game with low expectations, but Fitzmaurice is on his guard.
“Historically, talking about form going out the window, it really does. The Billy Morgan teams that won two All-Irelands in a row, 1989-90, came to Killarney in 1991 and a very unfancied Kerry team beat them, so it can happen and it does happen. We’re aware of what they can do. They mightn’t have done it consistently so far this year but that doesn’t mean they can’t in a Munster final.”
And if they do... the Kerry manager acknowledges, for instance, that he’s gotten it wrong in the past — exhibit A, the 2015 Munster final.
“Absolutely, a lot of games in Killarney in the last 20 years where we’ve been lucky to get out of it with a draw. Our own semi-final against Clare, if we hadn’t been as well prepared and focused as we were on the day, we’d have been beaten, particularly when we went down to 14 men.
“Our preparation won’t change, it’s a Munster final in Killarney, a huge game. Cork love to come to Killarney to have a cut off Kerry, regardless of the kind of negative talk out there about Cork, how poor they are and so on — if they came to Killarney and beat Kerry everything else would be forgotten.
“They’d have won a Munster championship, in an All-Ireland quarter-final, away you go. There’d have been a lot of pressure attached to the game being the first in the new Páirc Ui Chaoimh from Cork’s point of view. We’d have been in the situation of going up to have a cut.
“I think that removes an element of pressure and makes it more a situation of having nothing to lose — though there’s a lot to lose, there’s a Munster championship to lose. But they’ll have that mentality of having nothing to lose and a team with that mentality is very dangerous.
“That was the case in 2015, we were lucky to get out of Dodge with a draw. We played well the second day but we were lucky the first day.”
Fitzmaurice feels Cork not winning since 1995 in Killarney “doesn’t come into play” this weekend. “I played in some of those games, I was a selector in 2009, I was manager in 2015, there were a lot of games where we were very lucky to draw, we had big kicks at the end of games.
“It doesn’t really (affect us), it’s something you want to protect. It’ll finish at some stage but hopefully not this weekend.
“It’s a Munster title. Silverware. It’s the second most important title for us at the start of the year, there are three competitions, the national league, the Munster championship and the All-Ireland. The national league is third, Munster is second and the All-Ireland is first. It’s important to win it (Munster), it gets you to Croke Park, the qualifiers are becoming more of a minefield every week so you just want to win it, get the cup and get ready to go again in an All-Ireland quarter-final four weeks later.”
Getting ready is a challenge, as evidenced by the Munster semi-final.
“First, it was our first game in 10 weeks, and it took us 35 minutes to get going. You also must realise Clare are a very good team. I’d be interested to see how they get on against Laois, to see if they can get back to Croke Park again like last year.
“Clare are a coming team, they have a lot of good players and from eight up they’re as good as what’s around. They were always going to be a serious test.
“Then we gave away that penalty, we didn’t have the best of starts, things going against us, but as I said afterwards, I was pleased with the resolve and character of the players, they dug in and we won by six, probably should have been a small bit more. You have to be happy with that.”
Fitzmaurice dismisses suggestions Kerry ‘need’ Cork to be good in Munster.
“I’ve heard that said but Clare and Tipperary have advanced a lot — maybe not in the national consciousness, but for us beating Clare and Tipperary is a huge achievement any time we do it.
“Tipperary were in an All-Ireland semi-final last year and didn’t look out of place, so we knew that you have to be on top of your game to win those games.
“Because form goes out the window the dynamic is different with Cork. There’s a serious rivalry there and Cork have some serious footballers. We know it’ll be a serious battle, but we knew the semi-final would be a serious battle, and if you come through that and the Munster final, those two games will be good preparation for Croke Park.
“As a player, I liked adversity, and coming through it. It’s how I am in life in general, I like to do things the hard way.
“I think players and people thrive in those situations, when you’re thrown a curve ball and you have to think your way out of it, that can become a very powerful thing.
“The lads showed that in bucket loads the last day but to win a Munster final you’ll have to show more of it the next day. You have to do it week in, week out and thankfully the lads are doing that.”
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