Ahead of Sunday’s renewal of hostilities with Mayo, Éamonn Fitzmaurice discusses money, the top four, fatherhood and the form of Kieran Donaghy with Tony Leen.
Question: The popular narrative as we head into the first of the All-Ireland football semi finals is that the top four seem to be breaking away from the rest?
Éamonn Fitzmaurice: I disagree with it. I think the margins are a lot smaller. The quarter-finals threw up big wins but I don’t think the margins are as big as people think they are. Last year you had Tipperary as one of the last four. I know at the start of this year people predicted the top four — but you wouldn’t have predicted a lot of the other things that went on in the championship. You wouldn’t have predicted Down beating Monaghan. Armagh beating Kildare. Maybe people would have given Galway a chance of beating Mayo in Salthill but they’d have said they’d learn from the year before. So there is always upsets. There is always plenty of talking points. I don’t know what more people want really.
Question: The same four counties have contested three of the last five semi-finals though?
Éamonn Fitzmaurice: I do think if you’re behind, it’s up to you to catch up. We’re behind Dublin. We’re trying to catch up to them. So I think the onus is on the other counties to try and catch up, be it structures wise, be it with the way their team is playing, be it with their conditioning — you can do an awful lot. Everyone thinks it’s all money and it has to be money and it’s not — I think you can do a lot without that if you get the proper environment, proper people, proper training, you can achieve a lot.
Question: The finance argument, though, is held against Dublin more than other top counties. Is money fuelling the divide?
Éamonn Fitzmaurice: It helps. Absolutely it helps when you have the finance to put the things in place that you want to. That’s a huge debate — we could be here for the night. But how is the finance being spent? Is it being spent on managers, management teams, backroom gurus? Or is it being spent on things to help the players? There is plenty of money being spent in every county. I don’t accept that argument, no. Dublin have used their resources in a brilliant manner for the last 10 years and more and are reaping the rewards.
Question: Should there be a fairer equalisation of resources or does it boil down to a lot more than that?
Éamonn Fitzmaurice: I think it boils down to a lot more than that. How are the resources being used is what I’d ask?
Question: There’s been a bit recently about managers taking stick in their own counties? Can you empathise?
Éamonn Fitzmaurice: Don’t worry, there’s plenty of grief to be got in Kerry if you want to look for it. What I would say I would say firstly that you go into a job like this with your eyes wide open, an inter-county job in particular. Even a club job, even a school job. Even if you’re in charge of a school team and ‘my Johnny isn’t on the team and should be on the team’, you could get a touch, so I think that’s part of sport and part of being in charge of a team but some of the stuff is over the top, definitely, I think particularly with volunteers. Ok, maybe outside managers can get expenses, or whatever expression you want to put on it, but I think for volunteers it’s a bit over the top, some of the stuff that goes on and I think most people are doing it because they love their county and they want to see their county getting better. Or even going in with a group in another county that they want to improve it and it can be tough. It can be lonely but most managers are tough enough and they’re thick-skinned enough to know that’s part of the decision-making going into it. You’re going to get bits and pieces and abuse and you probably have to just put up with it.
Question: Did the arrival of Faye, your first child last October, change your perspective in any way regarding the post?
Éamonn Fitzmaurice: I’d better answer this carefully. It gives you perspective, absolutely. It gives you less time so you are more efficient is a better way of putting it. It’s healthier, particularly in the summertime. I could disappear down a hole for three or four days. I’d just be completely zoomed in on the opposition or zoomed in on ourselves. There wouldn’t be a whole lot else going on. Particularly when Tina was working, her working equalled me being able to do whatever I wanted with football. When you’ve a baby then it’s different. You’ve to put time into that, you want to put time into that, it just means you are a bit more rounded.
Question: You used be obsessive about the video review responsibilities. Still doing it?
Éamonn Fitzmaurice: I haven’t handed it over, no. But I’ve never done all of it. Paudie McCarthy and Pat Duffy in the backroom team, that’s their brief. But I’d still be hands on with it.
Question: Kieran Donaghy had a huge impact on the semi-finals three years ago. Are you surprised he’s still doing it?
Éamonn Fitzmaurice: No, not at all, I have to say. I’d say he had in his head last year to retire but I said it to him early in the summer, around the time of the Munster final, ‘There’s more in you, keep going, you’ll be gone for long enough’. And he thought about it I’d say and he’d a bit of thinking to do. I think particularly with his book coming out he probably saw that as being a kind of a natural end but he went away and he enjoyed his basketball for the winter and it kept him in good shape and he came back into us and he’s been like a breath of fresh air. I’m not surprised, no, he’s training that way night in, night out so he’s playing well and he’s in a good place.
Question: How key is the basketball for him?
Éamonn Fitzmaurice: I think it helped him but he also worked hard away from the basketball. It wasn’t as if he was just shooting hoops the whole time. He was in the gym. He’s worked hard, he’s worked hard and I think the basketball can be overplayed. He enjoyed it and it was a huge passion to him to get basketball going in Tralee again and of course his hands and his agility probably was helped by basketball but he also worked hard in fairness to him.
Question: Were you looking for that particular type of forward or he played his way in?
Éamonn Fitzmaurice: Form-wise, yeah. He played his way in. He gives you something that not too many other players anywhere can give you so that’s why it’s great to have him around the place. Then when his form is as it is you can’t ignore him, simple as that.
Question: What was the difference between Mayo the first day against Roscommon, and the replay?
Éamonn Fitzmaurice: I think they did it a lot better. I think that was the big thing. I think that their body language, everything about them, they meant business the second day. Tactically they got it very right. Keith Higgins, playing the way he did both defensively and offensively, was obviously huge. So I think it was just a more polished performance. They got goals at right times and they were more clinical really.
Question: And a tougher nut to crack now?
Éamonn Fitzmaurice: Absolutely, they’ll be seriously dangerous. The thing about them I think is that if you look at their formline last year it was somewhat similar. After losing in the Connacht Championship it took them a while to get going again. They were sleepwalking through games really and when they got to Croke Park they got better and obviously for the two All-Ireland finals, they played very well and were unlucky not to win the All-Ireland last year. So they seem to be something similar this year, they’re after hitting their form at the right time. Look they’re in the top couple of teams for the last five or six years so they’re going to be a seriously hard nut to crack, there’s no doubt about it.
Question: Has Mayo’s preparation for Sunday been better than Kerry’s?
Éamonn Fitzmaurice: Well games are brilliant. Playing games… I wouldn’t quite say week in, week out because it’s hard on amateur players, but definitely every second week, you get to a point then, similar to the end of the League, where if you can avoid injuries you’re pretty road-tested and you’re pretty strong at what you’re at. It’s a classic case of one team that’s had a load of football and another team then that hasn’t had as many games and can we bring it then in Croke Park so that’ll be a challenge for us.
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