Éamonn Fitzmaurice is confident Kerry’s supporting cast will step up to the plate if Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue are curtailed during Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final.
Kerry’s inside pair kicked 1-12 on the afternoon of their Munster final win over Cork, a marginal improvement on the 0-13 they managed against Clare in the previous round.
Indeed, on both occasions, Geaney and O’Donoghue’s combined total outweighed the scoring contribution of every other Kerry player.
It was the same story during the league games against Donegal (O’Donoghue and Geaney notched 2-7 of Kerry’s 2-17) and Roscommon (the pair accounted for 1-10 of their 1-19 total).
Third in the Kerry scoring chart this summer is Stephen O’Brien, the Kenmare forward hitting 1-4 despite starting from the bench against Clare and Cork.
The half-forward line of Michael Geaney, Kevin McCarthy, and Donnchadh Walsh managed just a solitary point between them in the Munster semi-final. They went one better against Cork. Notably, though, all three points were kicked by Michael Geaney. McCarthy was substituted in both games, Geaney was withdrawn with 12 minutes remaining against Clare, while Walsh, sent off in Ennis, was withdrawn during the interval at Fitzgerald Stadium.
Fitzmaurice, though, has full faith in his forward unit were Kerry’s “main finishers” to be put under the cosh.
“You’ve got six forwards going out and you want them all to score. There are days when [Paul Geaney and O’Donoghue] are marked very tightly. On those days, you hope that it frees up a bit for the half-forward line. We played Tyrone in the league, the lads were marked very tightly inside and we got 1-8 from our half-forward line,” remarked the Kerry manager.
“Generally, if a team are that tight on two or three players inside, it frees it up for other players and gives them opportunities. It is not something I’m worried about. The lads [Geaney and O’Donoghue] are our main finishers, but on the days when they are bottled up, you would hope the others would stand up.”
Whether the Galway rearguard can throw the shackles on O’Donoghue and Geaney is questionable. Goalkeeper Ruairi Lavelle was the fall guy after the Connacht final horror show where Roscommon’s inside trio took Galway’s last line of defence for 1-9.
Kevin Walsh’s outfit tightened up considerably against Donegal, but there were still several occasions at Markievicz Park where Donegal created two-on-two situations close to the opposition goal. Were this to be repeated at Croke Park, Walsh’s charges, in the words of Sunday Game pundit, Tomás Ó Sé, will be eaten alive.
Full-back lines, according to Fitzmaurice, are coming in for too much “negative scrutiny”, his own team included.
“If you get strong runners coming at you in numbers, it is a hard thing to defend. Often times, the full-back lines can be subjected to a bit of negative scrutiny because when teams have good forwards and when they get the ball in hand, they are difficult to defend against. It (that criticism) is often thrown at ourselves.”
And he expects the Kingdom defence to be sternly tested in Sunday’s curtain-raiser owing to the spread of talent in the Galway forward division. Fitzmaurice described Galway’s Connacht final defeat as a “blip” and wasn’t the least bit surprised by the manner in which they dismantled Donegal.
“We saw the true Galway last weekend. When they work hard, they have the natural forwards to really punish teams, so when you put the two of those elements together, they are a very strong team. Under Kevin Walsh, they have definitely identified the need to be stronger at the back. They are good at getting bodies back, have a strong structure, are excellent counter-attacking and have a lot of pace in the team. Their forwards the last day, the likes of Shane Walsh, Michael Daly, Damien Comer, Ian Burke, Danny Cummins only came on as a sub, Michael Meehan came on as a sub, Sean Armstrong, Johnny Heaney got two goals: Those fellas would get on any team in Ireland.”
Not since 1965 have the westerners defeated Kerry in the All-Ireland Championship. The favourite tag worn by the Munster champions this weekend is similar to that which was attached to the county’s U21 outfit when they travelled to Ennis for the All-Ireland U21 semi-final back in April. Galway stunned Jack O’Connor’s troops on that occasion and Fitzmaurice has vowed complacency won’t be a factor.
“There was a lot of criticism flying at Kevin Walsh after the Connacht final. They are back in an All-Ireland quarter-final which is where they probably felt they should have been anyway. The minute you take your eye off the ball or if there is any bit of complacency, you’ll be beaten. We know that going up. There is no safety net from now on. We are looking forward to getting back up to Croke Park and hopefully, performing like we can.”
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