He’ll still line out when the need requires, as was evidenced by his cameo appearance during St Marys’ Division 2 league game against Gneeveguilla in early December, but for some time now Maurice Fitzgerald has been swayed by the “natural pull” of management.
First, the St Mary’s U12s. The U14s followed, graduating then to the minor set-up for a three-year spell. The position of intermediate manager presented itself in 2014 and the Kerry legend didn’t need to be asked twice.
Stellar clubmen Kieran McCarthy, Christy O’Connell, Paddy Reidy, and Junior Murphy had made a lasting impression on a young Fitzgerald through the endless hours of service given on the local field in Cahersiveen. As much as he’d love to be lining out alongside Bryan Sheehan and the Daly brothers at GAA HQ this afternoon, Fitzgerald realises the importance of giving back.
“I suppose, in many respects, it would be the natural thing to follow in the footsteps of such great club men,” he says of taking up near-permanent residence on the sideline.
Having fallen to Currow in the 2013 intermediate final, it was expected that the South Kerry club would again challenge for honours the following summer. Not quite.
Ardfert provided the opposition for Fitzgerald’s first championship game at the helm and not alone did the North Kerry outfit mark St Mary’s card, they ended the campaign as Kerry, Munster, and All-Ireland champions.
“We are fierce competitors back here and I think we just wanted to stamp our own authority on things,” he says of their 2015 endeavours. “They are an exceptional bunch of players and the job is made very easy, because you’re dealing with a group of young men that are fierce enthusiastic, very proud of their club, and they’re prepared to work very hard.”
Last year’s county championship campaign was motoring along fairly soundly, that was until their remarkable semi-final clash with Castleisland Desmonds.
Trailing by two points with two minutes of normal time remaining, Mary’s reeled off four points to win out by 3-17 to 3-15. No team has since come within three points of Fitzgerald’s side.
“I definitely had a sense at the time it was a very good game, in fact an exceptional game of football, and I couldn’t say during the game whether we were going to win it or not. It was a toss of a coin. It did come down to the wire and I was thankful to get out of that game with a win. All I will say is that the lads kept going to the end and that’s to their credit, though I do recall that we did get some lucky breaks towards the end.”
How strong was his imprint in such a win, how strong has it been in leading this club to an All-Ireland intermediate final five years after lifting the junior crown? Captain Sean Cournane takes up the conversation.
“Maurice is as fantastic now as he was when he was a player. I first played with Maurice in 2009 and even back then he had leadership qualities. He often gave speeches in the dressing room and he would be absolutely fantastic. The hairs would be standing up on the back of your neck. His philosophy as a manager, he is Mr Motivator, is similar to what it was when he was a great player, and he has helped every player on the team with their game. He has helped me with free-taking and other aspects of my play.
“He does the same with other players. He’ll take us for individual sessions down to the pitch to work on areas of our game that might be weak. So, while on the outside Maurice might give the impression of being carefree, when it comes to preparation, he is quite meticulous and we have reaped the benefits of it this year, as everyone can see from our performances. I’m just hopeful that we can get the right result for the team, for him and for our wonderful supporters.”
Fitzgerald’s take on the clash with Mayo’s Hollymount-Carramore?
“From a club point of view and coming from a small pocket of the country facing the Atlantic, to have your team playing up in Croke Park is a massive honour. We’re happy, we’re enjoying our football, and we’re going up to do our best.”
Both today’s and tomorrow’s club finals double-header will be broadcast live on Irish TV.
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