Fitzmaurice relieved that Kerry ‘get it over the line’ and withstand Cork’s rally
Both managers left with plenty to think about after Killarney showdown
Cork manager Conor Counihan: “We didn’t play in the first half, or weren’t allowed to playh.” Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Something needs explaining when both the winning and losing managers of a Munster football final share the slightly sunken look of tired deflation, or at least the need for a large glass of ice-cold water.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice certainly wasn’t bounding back to the Kerry dressing-room, roaring and back-slapping players, despite this being his first piece of silverware as Kerry manager, and one can only imagine what he’d have been like had Kerry actually lost.
Fitzmaurice admitted it was “too close for comfort” in the end, and that’s putting it mildly. How Kerry nearly allowed themselves to lose a game they should have won with ease leaves Fitzmaurice plenty to ponder in the four-week break until the quarter-finals, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
“Cork just got momentum in the end,” he reckoned. “They definitely got on top in the middle of the field and they overran us. The crowd behind them, they kicked a few good scores.
“But there were a lot of different factors in it. I felt it was important any time we got a break away to kill the momentum and get a score but we didn’t. We were getting turned over and Cork were breaking down field. There’s plenty to work on but we’re delighted to get it over the line in the end.”
Not that Kerry’s first half display wasn’t as impressive as anything revealed since Fitzmaurice took charge: “Yeah, we’re very happy. But we spoke about it at half-time, knew Cork were going to come very strong. When we analyse we’ll probably be disappointed that we didn’t stand up to that rally a small bit better. But I keep saying, we don’t want to be the finished product yet.”
When it came to the more probing question, such as being justified by selecting Darran O’Sullivan ahead of Kieran Donaghy, Fitzmaurice diverted into the pressure of making that announcement ahead of schedule, due to pressure from “former player” on social media outlets.
“It was a hard decision and a big decision, and we put a lot of thought into it. Kieran himself reacted very well, he barely missed out on starting and will be back in the mix for the next day. The lads have a week of county championship now and it’ll be the players who are going well in training that we pick. Kieran contributed when he came in, especially that last kick-out when we needed to get our hands on the ball.”
For the Cork manager Conor Counihan there was a “very simple” explanation for his sunken look. “We didn’t play in the first half,” he said, “or weren’t allowed to play. The second half we probably threw the shackles off a bit, a went for it. And maybe a bit unlucky at the finish. But we just under-performed, didn’t get off the blocks quick enough. When you do that against Kerry or any team you’re going to be punished.
“To be fair, in the first half, Kerry had most of the initiative. Then they kicked on and got the goal. We seemed to have difficulty holding on to the ball in middle of the field in the first half.”
Yet in addressing that midfield crisis – and introducing Alan O’Connor and Pearse O’Neill – Cork nearly swung the momentum back in their winning favour: “Yeah we got on top there a little bit in the second half, and maybe the flow of the game started to come with us. We were a bit unlucky at the end with the few chances, that might have ended up with a goal.