IT’S not like it hasn’t happened before. It’s not as if it was the biggest demotion of the day in the world of sport either. But Kieran Donaghy’s axing from the named Kerry team for Sunday’s Munster final has raised a variety of questions.
Firstly, what was the point of closing the gates of Fitzgerald Stadium if Donaghy’s omission could be leaked so easily? The team was scheduled to be announced this evening but was brought forward after whispers grew about the former footballer of the year’s relegation to the bench.
Closing the doors to Kerry training sessions had been taken by Eamonn Fitzmaurice having recognised as a selector with Jack O’Connor that some parts of the media had an uncanny ability to accurately predict one of their positional tactics or personnel switches prior to Championship games.
By releasing the side earlier than usual, Fitzmaurice had at least regained some control on the situation. As he revealed about Declan O’Sullivan’s jaw injury, managing a story is important to him.
So did he spend yesterday looking for the whistleblower? Was it just coincidental that on the day Kerry were due to send the team to the printers that rumours of its make-up spread like wildfire? Or is it all a ruse? As Fitzmaurice himself said earlier this week: “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.”
Deciding to twist and not stick with Donaghy may be just what he was talking about from a Kerry perspective.
However, naming a team this early without the Austin Stacks man in it will do nothing but raise suspicions, especially in Cork.
At the same time, Kerry took to the field for the Munster quarter-final against Tipperary last year minus Donaghy, partly due to a breach of discipline after he attended the Champions League final.
And dummy teams aren’t all that palatable in Kerry especially, you would imagine, for someone like Fitzmaurice who speaks glowingly of the county’s core traditional values.
Forgetting the landslide wins over Tipperary and Waterford, Donaghy was impressive in Kerry’s last competitive game when they beat Tyrone in Omagh three months ago.
Plenty of time has passed for the two-time All Star to lose form but perhaps his absence points to a collective scheme by the Kerry management.
Does it mean Kerry are preparing to jettison a direct style or is it an attempt to disguise the fact they are going ahead with it?
Placing that seed of doubt in Cork minds is when match-ups are so crucial to the outcome.
If it’s done one thing its brought more focus to a provincial decider that could have further drifted from the national psyche this weekend long before Kilkenny were confirmed as Tipperary’s qualifier date.
The allure of Killarney to both teams, never mind their supporters, always piques interest but here are two sides that will both feature in the All-Ireland quarter-finals although neither admitting one of the carrots of winning is avoiding potential last-eight dates with either Donegal, Dublin or Mayo.
From that perspective, it’s a standalone game but, looking back, the neighbours’ last few encounters have been relatively tame. Red cards and replays aren’t an accurate indicator of whether derby games exhibit enough cut and thrust but they do suggest it and there hasn’t been one of either in their last two Championship meetings.
Last year’s Munster semi-final? Cork won, as Jack O’Connor conceded, pulling up. The 2011 final between them in Killarney was a game of two halves when Kerry sloppiness made a game of it in the second half before they finished off the game.
On Newstalk’s Off The Ball programme on Monday, former Mayo midfielder David Brady went as far as saying referee Marty Duffy, the man in the middle in Killarney, lacked courage for not calling a free on Monaghan goalkeeper Rory Beggan for over-carrying in the dying stages of Saturday’s Ulster semi-final.
Whether it be a crucial call not being given for a late and obvious foul on Derek Kavanagh or an unjust sending off to Marc Ó Sé, the most absorbing Kerry-Cork clashes have invariably been punctuated by flashpoints.
They tend to have cagey and sometimes contentious build-ups too. Donaghy’s omission — and its premature announcement — certainly falls into that category.
Fitzmaurice is no Warren Gatland: courting controversy ain’t his gig. But his decision to nip in the bud the conjecture surrounding his team points to a determination to let nothing affect Kerry.
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