Éamonn Fitzmaurice: Dublin were always the team to beat

Kerry boss relishing a tight contest and his first championship win over rivals

Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice celbrates beating Donegal in last year’s All-Ireland Senior Football final at Croke Park. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho.

Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice celbrates beating Donegal in last year’s All-Ireland Senior Football final at Croke Park. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho.

 

Here they come again. Like all great rivalries, there is always some sense that destiny can’t keep them apart for long. It’s also the one thing Éamonn Fitzmaurice felt certain about, all year, if Kerry were to defend their All-Ireland football title.

Even if, as it turned out, Dublin endured a slightly more precarious ride to Sunday’s final showdown, Fitzmaurice always expected them to be there. And he expects that feeling to be entirely mutual.

“I always felt that if we were to win the All-Ireland this year, we’d probably have to beat Dublin somewhere along the line,” says the Kerry manager. “And I’d imagine they felt the same about us. The way that the draws were, most people would have predicted a Dublin-Kerry final, bar someone getting caught along the line. So I don’t think it’s a huge surprise. While Mayo looked for a while this year like they had momentum, they didn’t quite manage to get it over the line.

‘Heavyweight battle’

Not that Fitzmaurice was in any way offended by those predictions, that despite them winning the 2014 All-Ireland, Dublin were still considered the team to beat in 2015: “The best team wins the All-Ireland. Every year. Simple as that. I’d be secure enough to know that in 2014 we were the best team. This year, it remains to be seen. It’s going to be a heavyweight battle, it’s a real 50-50 game, and whoever performs best will win.”

Dublin’s presence on Sunday also presents Fitzmaurice with the neat opportunity to complete a sort of grand slam of victories: since taking charge in 2013, he’s guided Kerry to three successive Munster title victories over Cork (at home and away), an All-Ireland victory over Donegal, and this year, that recently elusive championship win over Tyrone in Croke Park. The one big championship scalp still missing during his reign is Dublin, who just about got the better of Kerry in the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final. Fitzmaurice doesn’t deny that factor, although it’s certainly not the primary motivation for Sunday.

“I don’t think it’s festered. I think any team that’s beaten you as Dublin have in the championship, any team that has had the upper hand on you, of course you’re going to want to beat them. That’s natural. But I’d see it as more of a positive rather than a negative place. We know they have our number, to a certain extent, but that if we play to the top of our game we’ll really test them.

“There is something special about Dublin-Kerry, the Hill 16 factor, and so on. It’s the game every Kerry player wants to play in. And the same from a management point of view. But when you get to an All-Ireland final, it really doesn’t matter who’s there. You just want to win the game.”

Nor is the prospect of a first back-to-back All-Ireland since Kerry last achieved it (in 2006-’07) any primary motivation either: “You maybe look back on it afterwards, but it’s not an issue. Once we came back from our holiday, 2014 was parked. It was all about trying to win all we could this year. So far we’ve won a Munster championship and that’s it, we want to try to win an All-Ireland and that’s it.

“Personally, it’s trying to keep a very competitive squad happy, and going in the same direction. The challenge of winning games isn’t any different. The lads have been right from the start, I’ve haven’t needed to do any pushing. I wasn’t overly happy the day after the Tipperary game. I didn’t think we were professional enough in the last 15 minutes. I wasn’t happy the day after the Munster final, both with the lads and ourselves on the line.

‘Very Happy’

There is one notable difference this year, however, in that Dublin have benefitted from two thorough tests against Mayo in their drawn and replayed semi-final, just like Kerry did last year. Fitzmaurice doesn’t deny that’s an advantage, although not necessarily a winning one.

“I’m sure Dublin are delighted with the two games, from the point of view that they coasted through Leinster. Our replay in Limerick last year made the group, in many ways. By the end of the two games nearly the whole squad had played, which was brilliant for training coming into the final. Dublin have had that, this year, with two such tough tests. But we were well checked out in our own semi-final, against Tyrone. It was a good battle, a good one to win. We’d be hoping we have enough in the bank.

‘Great experience’

EAMONN FITZMAURICE: The Kerry manager on . . .

Having a stronger panel from 2014: “If we were relying on the players from last year we probably wouldn’t be, wouldn’t have improved, and that edge wouldn’t have been there. But because of the competition players are pushing it on. Like Tommy Walsh, Paul Galvin. Both of them were disappointed not to feature the last day, because they want to contribute, but that’s a positive, not a negative.”

Colm “Gooch” Cooper’s return to form after missing 2014 through injury: “Since the Munster final replay, he’s been on top of his game, enjoying his football, and getting better and better. Hopefully his graph will continue to rise, and that he’ll have a big final as well, which I would expect him to have.”

The lessons from the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin: “We got a lot of it right, but we got a few calls wrong too, absolutely. We learned from it, and benefitted from it last year. It’s over two years now, since we’ve played Dublin in the championship. Dublin also learned some harsh lessons against Donegal last year, I think they’re a good bit more defensively conscious. But I don’t think too many teams play with six up on them either, which will ask questions of them as well, and be interesting.”

The need to stop Dublin from scoring goals: “It’s no coincidence that Dublin often get their second goal soon after their first one. I don’t mind if it becomes a shoot-out, as long as we come out the right side of it. We didn’t in 2013, when it was a shoot-out. And we came out the wrong side. If you’re conceding three goals to Dublin you’re probably not going to win the game. But you give yourself a great chance of winning if you can keep them out.”

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