Kingdom’s lukewarm fans must look in mirror

Fifteen years to the month since his late friend and team-mate attempted to do the same, Mikey Sheehy brought the sacred cows to the slaughterhouse.

Kingdom’s lukewarm fans must look in mirror

Perhaps some sort of unofficial statute of limitations had elapsed as Sheehy felt compelled, as Páidí Ó Sé did, to take aim at the Kerry supporters.

Few if any others in the county would have the clout or the audacity to do the same.

While not shying away from the fact August 26 was a desperately sad day for Kerry players and the management team of which he is a member, Sheehy was correct to highlight it was a chastening one for their followers too.

They were all in it together.

Since the “animals” comment and Sheehy’s declaration that the Kerry faithful were embarrassingly low in numbers last year’s All-Ireland semi-final replay defeat to Mayo, the green and gold brigade have been treated to something akin to heritage status.

It’s taken for granted that they don’t travel just as they exhibit complacency about their team. After all, Kerry have never failed to reach the All-Ireland quarter-finals — with just two losses in their 17 appearances.

The latest of those defeats in 2012 coincided with a culture change among the Kerry support when they turned up in their droves for the qualifier games in Westmeath and Limerick.

After their humbling Munster semi-final loss to Cork, there was an understanding they were saying goodbye to a team.

Before his brief return to county colours, Paul Galvin would be the only player that stepped away following that season but it turned out to be a farewell to the second coming of Jack O’Connor.

That year, Kerry supporters recognised more than ever the role they had to play. There were sticky moments in Mullingar that July afternoon but the superior visiting contingent made their presence felt and contributed. What happened in 2014 was a bonus.

James O’Donoghue touched on just how unfancied they were prior to their Munster final against Cork.

“It’s tough being down in Kerry sometimes with that sort of stuff because Kerry people are so forthcoming with their opinions. You ask if they’re going to the game and they’ll say, ‘Nah, sure why would I go down to see them get bate?’”

Written off before a provincial final to All-Ireland champions in less than three months, what Éamonn Fitzmaurice achieved was an incredible achievement.

That shouldn’t excuse him from criticism and it hasn’t. The questionable personnel switches in Kerry’s final championship games these past three seasons ensured his reappointment wasn’t a smooth one and, as Sheehy pointed out, the natives made sure his winter was a long one.

“You’d stay away from the bars — oh, you would. It was cat stuff. Then the thing that would annoy you at times, a lot of fellas who were giving flak were fellas who weren’t even at the game.”

Sheehy is again right to intimate that hurlers on the ditch shouldn’t be allowed to have it both ways. It’s not as if Kerry has exclusive rights to such men but it is home to a lot of them. No other team apart from Dublin could have shown up Kerry’s poor following in the 53,032 crowd last year as much as Mayo but then they have had their issues too.

Four years ago, James Horan noted how quiet the Mayo following became in the closing stages of the 2013 final loss to Dublin.

Later that year, the Mayo Club 51 supporters group was established with the aim of encouraging more colour and noise. The fruits of their labour are now being seen.

They and Dublin are the only football teams who have sold out their season ticket quota. The argument will be made that Kerry’s thirst for success isn’t as strong as that of Mayo but the brickbats flung at Fitzmaurice, Sheehy, and others at the tail end of 2017 fly in the face of it.

Distance from Croke Park would be another excuse but then the tracks routinely made by Mayo fans would debunk that theory.

Six years ago, Kerry people turned out in force believing they were saying goodbye to a team. Now they have the opportunity to say hello to another as Fitzmaurice bloods a collection of greenhorns, David Clifford among them.

Christenings are hardly as popular as funerals but starting in Killarney on Sunday they can make a difference.

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