Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s decision to stay on makes perfect sense for Kerry
Manager could have longest continuous term since Páidí Ó Sé if he stays until 2018
Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice took over from Jack O’Connor in 2012. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
For a county so steeped in honour and tradition Kerry has a slightly odd relationship with its football managers. Some lasted forever, some ended too soon, and others not soon enough.
That Éamonn Fitzmaurice was ratified for another two-year term is based less on sentiment and more on logic: it’s not so much a reappointment as it is a succession strategy, with Fitzmaurice likely to serve another two years at least, before Jack O’Connor comes back into the fray.
Up until last night’s county board meeting in Tralee, Fitzmaurice’s future had been anything but certain. His four years in charge officially ended with the two-point defeat to Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final last Sunday week, and there was the expectation he may leave it at that.
Last October, when only agreeing – or else asking – for a one-year extension to his term, Fitzmaurice himself hadn’t looked past 2016: only now, given the way the succession path has lined up, it made perfect sense for him to remain on.
Fitzmaurice took over from O’Connor after the 2012 season, and after that O’Connor went back to manage the Kerry minors, guiding them to successive minor titles in 2014-15; this season, O’Connor was in charge of the Kerry under-21 footballers, and was intent on keeping that role for another year. Kerry haven’t won an All-Ireland under-21 title since 2008, and lost out in Munster to Cork again, earlier this year.
In the meantime Peter Keane has come in as Kerry minor football manager, who face Galway, on Sunday week, as Kerry look to make it three titles in a row – a feat not achieved by the county since the 1930s. All things going to plan then, O’Connor will likely return to the senior job he held twice before (2004-06, then 2009-12).
Should Fitzmaurice see it out until 2018, his six years will be the longest continuous term since Páidí Ó Sé, who was in charge from 1995-2003; indeed Ó Sé was keen to go again, in 2004, but was essentially told to step aside, after which O’Connor came in, only to surprisingly step aside, for two years, after winning the 2006 All-Ireland, when Pat O’Shea came in to fill the role.
Mick O’Dwyer, of course, still holds the record with his reign that lasted seemingly forever – from 1975-1989.
What Fitzmaurice’s reappointment will likely mean, however, is some considerable shake-up in the Kerry panel: the likes of Aidan O’Mahony (36), Marc Ó Sé (36) and Kieran Donaghy (33) are known to be considering retirement, yet he may need to make some tough calls elsewhere, regarding the likes of Bryan Sheehan and Donnchadh Walsh, both also into their 30s, if he is to inject a larger dose of fresh blood.
Fitzmaurice did shake up his backroom team last October, in the wake of the 2015 final defeat to Dublin. Trainer and selector Cian O’Neill departed to take over as manager of Kildare, while three-time All-Ireland winner Liam Hassett came on board as a selector alongside Mikey Sheehy and Diarmuid Murphy, with Pádraig Corcoran from Dingle also coming on board as the new trainer/selector. Fitzmaurice’s 2017 backroom team will announced at a later date.
Kerry GAA chairman Patrick O’Sullivan had already indicated his hope and confidence that Fitzmaurice would remain on for at least another year: “Obviously the defeat [to Dublin] was very disappointing and Éamonn and the rest of the management need time to reflect,” O’Sullivan told The Kerryman newspaper. “Éamonn has done a wonderful job in his four years in charge. He has won four Munster titles, won an All-Ireland title and contested another, as well as a League final. He took on the job when there weren’t too many others queuing for it, and in what were supposed to be lean times for Kerry he has kept the team competing at the top end every year.”
Indeed even by Kerry’s own high standards, Fitzmaurice’s record over the past four seasons certainly isn’t bad.
In the All-Ireland championship series, Kerry under Fitzmaurice have played 11 games, won eight and lost three – the problem being all three have been to Dublin (the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final, the 2015 final, and now the 2016 semi-final).
In the meantime, he has delivered one All-Ireland and four successive Munster titles. And while Dublin have extended their winning streak to an incredible 27 games, stretching back to March 2015, there is solace in the fact that Kerry were the last team to beat them.
Still, those three successive championship defeats to Dublin are the only championship games Fitzmaurice has lost as Kerry manager, meaning his summer has always ended either losing to Dublin or winning the All-Ireland.
Fitzmaurice, still only 39, was previously a selector to O’Connor in 2009, when Kerry won back the All-Ireland, and also following year, when they were beaten by Down in an All-Ireland quarter-final.
He then took complete charge in 2012, after O’Connor stepped down, following the championship defeat to Donegal.