Eamonn Fitzmaurice quietly plotting Kerry’s fortunes
The young manager likes consensus, but he likes to overturn it too when required
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice before the 2013 All-Ireland SFC semi-final against Dublin at Croke Park. Kerry lost but such was their performance the young manager emerged with his reputation actually enhanced. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
At half-time in the 2006 All-Ireland final, the Kerry dressing room was a crankier place than it ought to have been given they’d just posted a lordly 3-8 in the first 35 minutes. The level of vexation was rooted in the fact there was still a game to play at all. They should have been passing around cigars at that point but instead the place was a Babel of recrimination.
“I came in bulling because Mayo had scored three goals,” remembers Jack O’Connor.
“There were six goals scored in the first half and we came in only six points up. There was roaring and shouting in the dressingroom, with me as responsible as anybody because I felt we should have had the game killed off by that stage. We should have been out of sight.”
Eamonn Fitzmaurice had been in and out and up and down with O’Connor all year. Shifted up to centre forward for the league (and not particularly happy about it either), he was dropped early in the summer.
Last subBy the time Croke Park came around he was getting game time only as the last sub in games and hadn’t played 70 championship minutes since the 2005 Munster semi-final. If ever a player might have felt entitled to squirt a little petrol on to the bonfire just at that moment, Fitzmaurice would have had his reasons.
“But in fairness to Eamonn,” says O’Connor, “he was the first one to stand up and go, ‘Lads, come now, everyone calm down a small bit. We’re six points up here, don’t forget that. We’ll steady the ship and we’ll be okay’.
“He was always very knowledgeable and wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion. He was a strong voice in the dressingroom and it was obvious that he was a very shrewd thinker on the game.
“When you coach fellas, you know that ones who will turn into managers. You can see who has the mindset to do it. That good team from ’04 onwards had a few of them but he certainly stood out.”
When O’Connor came back for a second stint on 2009, there was never going to be a shortage of potential selectors around Kerry to bring in beside him. Yet he went for Fitzmaurice who was still only 32 and still a mainstay for his club.
That he was, and would remain, lifelong friends with more than half the team didn’t concern O’Connor. Probably helped, if anything.
Interviewed in these pages last year, Fitzmaurice described his role back then as “more assistant manager than selector”. He watched matches that O’Connor couldn’t. He did the warm-up with trainer Alan O’Sullivan. He played in training matches when the numbers were odd. He took responsibility for video analysis.
Though the video thing is dismissed now by O’Connor as a matter of the younger man being “less technologically challenged”, Fitzmaurice fundamentally changed the way Kerry approached that aspect of preparation. Video analysis had become a bit like Mass. They congratulated themselves for having done it even if they were sceptical enough as to the good it was doing them.