So the guessing games begin.
Does Kieran Donaghy become the second Kerry captain in two years not to start an All-Ireland final?
Might Marc Ó Sé lose out, after his early black card on Sunday? Will Aidan O’Mahony return to a defence where he hardly put a foot wrong in the wins over Cork and Kildare? Only from the treetops of Upper Lewis Road will those questions be answered before the team is released on September 17.
What can be said with certainty is within Fitzgerald Stadium, Eamonn Fitzmaurice operates his own roadhouse rules: expect the unexpected, if you’re going to fight, take it outside and be nice. That last one is important given the manager’s zero tolerance for energy-sapping jilted players. His ruthlessness, or “consistency”as he calls it, has disappointed many these last three seasons yet has succeeded in keeping them onside.
“He does a great job doing it,” says Johnny Buckley, “but the players realise in how we play the game at the moment that it’s part and parcel of it. If a fella is in a great vein of form coming into a game he will get the nod ahead of another fella.
“The way the team is named in training the first fella to go up and shake your hand and tap you in the back is the fella that has been dropped in your position. It’s coming from management but it’s just a collective attitude.”
Of the 26 named in the panel on Sunday, 23 have seen action this summer, substitute goalkeeper Brian Kelly, Pa Kilkenny and Alan Fitzgerald the odd ones out.
Injured pair Michael Geaney and Jack Sherwood as well as Mark Griffin have all enjoyed some game-time.
Barry John Keane may be, as Fitzmaurice claims, the “unluckiest” player on the panel but his manager has kept alive for him the dream of starting an All-Ireland final. The same applies for Fionn Fitzgerald and the other four replacements on Sunday. Fitzmaurice is happy to give honesty when he gets it in return.
“There’s no such thing as going through the motions in training because you’ll be sitting on the bench the next day,” insists Paul Murphy, who overcame serious bruising on his leg to line out against Tyrone.
“It’s very competitive at times but that is only a good thing. Certain individuals, it mightn’t go their way for a couple of days but Fionn came in and did well. He mightn’t get a game every day but throughout the season everybody makes their impact. The competitiveness that is there is the best way to have it.”
Buckley had his own problems in the Munster final replay where he had to retire with a knee ligament issue. Coming in for Bryan Sheehan, his five dispossessions would have pleased Fitzmaurice more than his three points after the importance of tackling in the wet conditions was highlighted in team talks. Buckley showed an appetite that colleagues then replicated. “Hunger is something that is either there or not. It’s driven by the management but if it’s not in the players then it’s very hard to circulate throughout the team. I think it’s just there. A lot of fellas including myself won their first medal last year and we don’t want it to be the only medal we win in our careers.
“At the start of this year, we said we would have another good go at it, keep the heads down and work away.”
Now that Kerry, regardless of what happens Sunday, face a more expressive side, there will have to be a change of tact, whatever about personnel. Good thing Kerry’s chameleon ways can adjust for such scenarios accordingly.
Murphy says: “We will pay close attention to next weekend and then start tailoring preparations so it is an advantage. You have to take account of what you think the opposition are going to do and try and do what we want to do ourselves. Even in this game (v Tyrone) with men dropping back, we kicked a bit more than other teams would have. We’ll tailor our game to suit ourselves with the opposition in mind.”
But how and with whom? Guess, because with this Kerry set-up that’s all you can do.
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