Kerry have to bring “something different” to the table this summer if they’re to bridge the gap to champions Dublin, captain Fionn Fitzgerald has insisted.
Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s charges have not reached the All-Ireland final since 2015, losing to Dublin and Mayo in the last two semi-finals, the latter after a replay.
While Fitzgerald believes Kerry will be “in the mix” later in the season, he knows they’ll again come up short if they do not tweak their approach.
Whatever about their game-plan for the 2018 championship, the team should certainly bear a different complexion to summers previous, with David Clifford — whom Fitzgerald lectures at IT Tralee — Seán O’Shea and Micheál Burns, among others, poised to make their championship debuts in the weeks and months ahead.
“We definitely have to bring something different this year that we haven’t brought over the last number of years,” said the Kerry captain.
“We can’t keep doing what we have been doing over the last number of years and expect different results. Losing at the All-Ireland semi-final stage is hard to take. You are so close. Yet, you are so far.”
He added: “The league was definitely positive in that we got to look at different players, different tactics, different ways of going about things. Hopefully, we can bring the good things together and polish them for the championship.”
A rather simple motivation for the championship ahead is to prove to themselves and those outside the camp that their 2017 showings were not a true reflection of this group. Munster, yet again, was easily conquered, but on their three outings to Croke Park — a quarter-final against Galway and two semi-final jousts with Mayo — they never fully hit their stride.
“You didn’t see what Kerry is about and we didn’t feel like we played to the level that we could play to. Against Mayo, we just didn’t perform. We are definitely better than what we would have churned out, but the proof is in the pudding and we haven’t produced it so far,” said Fitzgerald.
No more than they demand of themselves, so too do the Kerry public. In a recent interview on Radio Kerry’s ‘Terrace Talk’, Fitzmaurice described the relationship between the squad and supporters as being “them and us”. The corner-back views the expectation rolling down from the stands as “healthy pressure”.
“People want you to succeed, they want you to do well. The pressure the Kerry public put on us, we need that, at times, and it’s always been part of the Kerry tradition. I don’t see that changing any time soon.”
With management having used 37 players during the league, the 28-year-old, now in his sixth season wearing the green and gold, is excited by the Super 8s and how Kerry would respond to the busy schedule of games and its home-and-away format.
“It allows teams to get more quality competitive games than you normally get during the league around March. Now, you are getting them in July and August. The Super 8s is going to tell a lot.”
Clare are the first hurdle they must negotiate. There was six between them in the Munster semi-final at Ennis this time last year, four was the difference in 2014 at the same venue. Kerry victorious both times. The margin was 12, though, when they clashed at Fitzgerald Stadium in the 2016 provincial semi.
“Since I started, traditionally it was Kerry and Cork, but we’ve been put to the pin of our collar over the last few years by Clare and Tipperary. The Munster championship is a lot stronger now than it was when I started. That’s good, because you are more battle-hardened. You want to play good games. That’s the reality. That’s the end goal of a footballer. You want to play in games where you are challenged all the time and that’s where the Munster Championship is at now.”
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