Kingdom keeping it low-key

Cup your ear at the gates of Fitzgerald Stadium towards the action inside it in recent weeks and you might think it was the locked little shop of horrors.

Aidan O’Mahony’s dislocated elbow in a training game last Saturday was a nasty injury, which should sideline the defender for six weeks.

At another session there behind closed doors in keeping with the management’s policy, it was feared Declan O’Sullivan had broken his jaw in a tackle involving Paddy Curtin.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice was almost resigned to that fact before it was revealed later that night he was okay. With nobody outside the camp watching on, they were able to handle the injury without things getting out of hand.

“That would have gone all over Kerry that evening (had the public been allowed in),” said Fitzmaurice. “It would have been growing legs whereas we had it assessed and we put it out there afterwards that he had a knock, we feared he had a broken jaw but it didn’t turn out that way. From that point of view, it’s definitely been a help.”

Aside from the prying eyes, the quieter environment is a better one to work in. “I remember the lead-up to big games in the past and there’d be a big crowd there. Scores would be getting cheered and stuff like that — I don’t think myself that’s ideal preparation for a match.”

Fitzmaurice doesn’t say but it’s perhaps with Cork in mind that the doors have been shut to the public, the image of the neighbours peeking over the fence.

Match-ups have been an integral part of Kerry-Cork Munster clashes in recent years and getting an edge is of paramount importance.

“There is a lot of familiarity there but at the same time both sides have introduced some young players this year and this has brought a degree of freshness to the challenge,” says Fitzmaurice. “But it is like all the big derbies in all sports, whether it be Man Utd/Liverpool or Real Madrid/Barcelona, or within the GAA Dublin/Meath... no matter how familiar teams are, no matter how well they are going, it will always be a big game and there is always a likely twist in it.”

After facile wins over Tipperary and Waterford in the space of six days, Sunday is where Fitzmaurice will get a more rounded idea of where Kerry currently stand. He saw how Cork experimented with styles during the league only to operate more traditional tactics in their two Munster games.

Whatever is thrown at them on Sunday, even if it’s a blanket defence, Kerry won’t lack preparation.

“All teams are very conscious now about protecting their own side of field, getting bodies back. Even the day against Clare, you could see Cork were getting bodies back to their own half as soon as they lost the ball.

“I think every team — possibly because of the success of Donegal — are more defensively conscious. We had loads of practice playing against that game in the National League, and it’s a thing that we condition for in training at times. If that’s the way it pans out, that’s the way it pans out.”

Going the way of Down and how they matched Donegal’s defensively-minded game is not a road Fitzmaurice will travel.

He goes into his first Munster final as Kerry manager hoping he can maintain the county’s 18-year run of not having lost an SFC game to Cork in Killarney.

“If you lost the game you would be disappointed and you would be saying ‘I was in charge of the team that lost the record that was there since 1995’. It’s not something you can use as motivation or use it to influence the result.”

With the older players continuing to leave nothing on the training field, he’s buoyed by the team’s prospects.

“If you look at someone like Tomás Ó Sé who was 35 last week. The man looks 10 years younger. He absolutely eats up the training, and is ultra competitive. He’s not on the team because he’s Tomás Ó Sé. He’s on the team because he’s the best number five inside in training.”

Yet given the coverage dedicated to Donegal, Dublin and Mayo in recent times, Sunday’s final might be dubbed a forgotten one.

Fitzmaurice doesn’t mind. “That’s not something we can really control. Looking in, at the moment, a lot of people are talking about Donegal and Dublin really. That suits us fine. I’m sure it suits Cork fine. They’ve been very quiet and, as we know in Kerry, Cork are at their most dangerous when they’re quiet like that.

“We’re looking to a big Kerry/Cork game in Killarney. Whichever team wins it and gets to Croke Park, I’m sure there aren’t too many teams coming through the qualifiers that’d like to be drawn. Likewise, whichever team loses, if they manage to win their qualifier game and come into Croke Park for their quarter-final, I’m not sure there’d be too many teams (that would like to face them).”


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