Kerry name five championship debutants for Clare test
Eamonn Fitzmaurice without several marquee names for the tricky trip to Ennis
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice: “I think that if we can get through this phase of injuries, we will have a very strong squad.” Photo: Russell Pritchard/Inpho
The Kerry team that runs out at Cusack Park, Ennis, on Sunday will see a dramatic change from what the Irish sporting public has grown accustomed to.
The Kingdom have lost three former footballers of the year since last summer, Colm “Gooch” Cooper is nursing ruptured knee ligaments and only one Ó Sé remains on Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s roster.
Cooper’s injury happened in February but Daithí Casey has struggled to fill that playmaking role on the 40.
This Munster semi-final is only the second championship outing since 2002 that either Cooper or Tomás Ó Sé won’t be donning the green and gold jersey. The other time was the qualifier against Antrim in 2009 when the pair were stood down for disciplinary reasons by current minor manager Jack O’Connor.
The retirement of Ó Sé, along with Eoin Brosnan and Paul Galvin, leaves three gaping holes around Kerry’s middle third. It gets worse with the 2006 footballer of the year, Kieran Donaghy, and current All Star James O’Donoghue still easing their way back from injury.
In fact, five Kerry players make their full championship debut on Sunday. Brian Kelly in goal, Paul Murphy at corner back, Michael and Paul Geaney and Stephen O’Brien in attack all come into a side that is captained by Fionn Fitzgerald of Dr Crokes.
Presuming they avoid a repeat of the 1992 provincial final, when Clare beat them, O’Donoghue and Donaghy should feature against Cork or Tipperary in the July 6th decider. But this represents a hugely challenging time for Fitzmaurice in just his second campaign as manager.
‘Too early’“The up to date position is that they’re all improving, but Sunday will come too early for Johnny Buckley and James O’Donoghue,” said Fitzmaurice. “Everyone else will be okay.
“Johnny’s was a strange kind of injury as he just turned on his ankle as he came off for half-time in the Rathmore - Crokes championship game. Bar something unforeseen, we’re hopeful that all of the rest of the lads are available. Kieran Donaghy got a full session under his belt too so he’s on the way back as well.”
“Brian McGuire got a good job offer and he just had to take it. For the younger lads, the job prospects for the summer in Kerry aren’t great and they were probably getting frustrated too . . . .
‘Weaken competition’“You can’t put a gun to a fella’s head, if he’s going to go, he’s going to go. When fellas are leaving after a good bit of work has gone in, of course it’s going to weaken competition in terms of trying to get into the [match-day] 26.
“Marcus Mangan who was in Carlow and missed the National League is in with us and Fergal McNamara from Austin Stacks in also in with the squad, but we have basically the same squad as last year, taking into account the retirements and injuries.”
Killian Young is another with little mileage under his belt but the defender featured in a recent challenge match against Meath. Fitzmaurice is adamant Kerry can reach their usual levels of competitiveness so long as they ride out the current turmoil.
“I think that if we can get through this phase of injuries, we will have a very strong squad. We have a lot of competition for places, within the team, and also in the squad, fellas looking to get into the 26, so if everyone is fit then we have a strong squad.”
Kerry must also cope with an 11-week break since Cork beat them 2-18 to 1-11 in their last league game.
“It has been difficult,” says Fitzmaurice. It sure has.