It’s something of an anomaly of the GAA championship season that the spring, and the secondary competition of the league, provides the most sustained period of continuous action.
While Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice has led his side to an All-Ireland title, a final loss and a semi-final appearance in his time in charge, he has never reached the league semi-finals. Barring a very unfortunate confluence of circumstances, Kerry will probably be in the last four, and Fitzmaurice has taken the chance to continue rotating his team, making four changes for the clash.
While Sunday, and a possible semi-final and final, are about gearing up for the summer action, the manager makes the point that, during the league, the constant flow of games means he doesn’t look too far forward.
“Look you are always thinking championship,” Fitzmaurice says, “there is no doubt about it, but I think the league is fantastic in you have games from week to week and it’s brilliant from the players’ point of view, because once you have finished with one game, you are thinking about the next, and you are looking forward to a big game the following weekend again.
“So really you don’t have time to be thinking or formulating whether this fellow or that fellow will be in the championship squad. It is very early days, barely into the month of April. There is even a long way to go to the start of the championship, not to mind the finish of the championships, so lots can change with injuries and form, suspensions so we have an open mind with regards to the championship squad. It’s more like whoever is going well at the time.
“But, of course, fellows are putting up their hands and of course every year you get a player or two that has a very good league campaign and that continues into the championship. It’s great to see there are players who are doing well and it’s great to see there are new players doing well, and Sunday will be another stern test and it’s good for the squad going forward.”
Kerry haven’t beaten Cork in the league since 2013, Fitzmaurice’s first year in charge. While they have amassed two more points than their rivals, he knows Cork are resurgent after a sticky start. “Well, I think early in the league Cork did ship a few big scores, but I think in the last couple of games now they have been very solid at the back,” he says.
“The night in Croke Park against Dublin, they played very well, they were unlucky not to get something, and against both Monaghan and Down, they were very solid at the back.
“I think, as happens with a new management when they come in, they are putting their ideas in place and it will take a while for them to bed in, a couple of games at least so I think over the past of games they have been very solid.
“So, as I said, they could easily have beaten Dublin in Croke Park and they have won their last two games, so they could be on the same points total as us. I think that Cork’s graph has been very much on the up over the past couple of weeks so they are dangerous opponents.
“I think it will be a typical Cork-Kerry game, there will be very little in it and it will be tight but, hopefully, we can come out on top at the end.” Despite the league losses to Cork in 2014 and ’15, Kerry turned the tables come the championship. As a result, Fitzmaurice isn’t attributing any extra significance in terms of possible future meetings.
“Winning on Sunday is important to us but in terms of its importance towards the championship, it is irrelevant,” he says.
“If we come across Cork in a Munster final, that is three months away so it’s irrelevant at that stage, all it is is another game that will be hugely competitive, we will want to win, Cork will coming at us with everything trying to beat us and to secure their status.
“It is going to be a ferocious encounter and we know that, and that is what we want at this stage of the year both the lads and ourselves as a management team.”
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