Final triumph a fitting testament to Fitzmaurice’s ability to lead and inspire

Kerry manager and his players fully deserve every plaudit that comes their way

Kerry’s Aidan O’Mahony clashes with Donegal’s Michael Murphy during last Sunday’s All-Ireland final at Croke Park. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Kerry’s Aidan O’Mahony clashes with Donegal’s Michael Murphy during last Sunday’s All-Ireland final at Croke Park. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

First things first. Our man up the tree. I’ve been talking to everyone I can about it and we’ve all reached a theory that we’re happy enough with. We reckon he was a double agent.

He came down to Kerry with great intentions of being a spy for Donegal but got flipped by the locals. Somewhere along the way, Kerry got into his bones and into his blood and he turned. He left the ID behind deliberately to make himself look stupid. Sure isn’t it better that people think he’s a fool than a traitor?

These are the things you hop balls about in a week like this. In Tralee on Monday night, I was looking at the team up on the stage and thinking of the messing that would have been going on among them since they walked off the Hogan Stand the previous day. Some of them that don’t even drink would be dealing with their first sore head in months.

By Monday night, they’d be exhausted. Most of them wouldn’t have slept for a day and a half – you get to a point where you’re nearly afraid to sleep in case you miss something. These are the best problems you could ever have in your life. And well deserved they are too.

Even though it wasn’t much of a game to watch, from a Kerry point of view it was a great All-Ireland to win. To come from where they came from, to lose the players they lost and still pick up an All-Ireland out of it – that was serious going. The players and Eamonn Fitzmaurice deserve every plaudit that comes their way.

Perfectly disguised

Durcan’s mistake was a huge one but people giving out about him should go back and watch the first half. I sent a text at half-time to a friend that just said, ‘Durcan is killing us with kick-outs’. And he was. His kick-outs were sublime.

They were perfectly disguised, they found their man, he was selling more dummies than the Gooch. He was the launchpad for Donegal. It all went wrong for him after he put Donaghy in and that’s what he’ll be remembered for. But nobody was giving out about him at half-time.

And I don’t buy this talk either that Jim McGuinness is somehow less of a manager than we all thought he was before the final. McGuinness and Fitzmaurice thought out every last scenario in that final. They plotted and planned their way through it for weeks in advance and on the day Fitzy’s team performed better. To say that McGuinness has been found out on the back of it is too cheap and too easy.

Terrible game

Mikey Sheehy

I’m delighted for him. He has always been a ballsy guy, willing to take a risk and do what needs to be done to win. This was a terrible game to watch and Kerry were as responsible for that as Donegal were. But this is about winning. Get the medal in the drawer and let people sing laments for the game all through the winter.

Fitzy looked at Donegal and knew that the way to match them was to sit back and defend against them. It was what Armagh had done and it very nearly worked for them. The last thing he was going to do was go all-out attacking them and leave holes at the back so he set up his system accordingly. When two teams set up like that, you get what we got on Sunday.

He was able to do that because he can always convince his players to follow his game plan to the letter. If Fitzy told you that tomorrow morning, a gang of you were going to get into a boat in Dingle and sail 200 miles out to sea for an exercise, you’d think, ‘Well that sounds a bit daft but as long as Fitzy is driving the boat, I suppose there must be something to it’.

Systems are one strand of a game plan. Match-ups are another. Paul Murphy on Ryan McHugh worked perfectly. Likewise, Aidan O’Mahony on Michael Murphy. O’Mahony was outstanding, a total warrior. But Murphy was still the one Donegal player who stood up to the task. He was getting horsed all the way through the game by O’Mahony and still he came looking for ball near the end and nearly got Donegal in for the goal they needed.

You have to admire that. And any Kerry person watching would know that to have Aidan O’Mahony hopping off you for a full 70 minutes is a nightmare. Mahony always wants the job of going after the opposition’s big man. When we used play Rathmore, it wouldn’t be Marc or Tomás or Cinnéide that Mahony would go after, he’d make sure and horse into me and then just look at me as if to say, ‘What are you going to do about it?’

Savage battle

An All-Ireland final is about a lot of things but one of them that can get forgotten about is toughness. You have to show up for a physical battle. A player like Anthony Maher has taken a lot of criticism over the years – from myself included – but he was tough as hell on Sunday. He was selfless with all the running he did and all the hits he put in and took. That’s what it takes on All-Ireland final day.

That group had a togetherness that was obvious. At the final whistle, you look out for who goes to who. Our club would be big rivals with Dingle back in west Kerry and yet who did Marc Ó Sé run to straight after it was over? Paul Geaney. There’d be fellas in both clubs now who that wouldn’t sit too well with but the boys couldn’t care less. Kerry transcends all.

And winning transcends all. Fitzmaurice is about winning, pure and simple. I play against him in five-a-side soccer the odd time on a Monday night and there’s nothing he likes more than being on a team that doesn’t have the best players but still pulling out a win. He’s a fine soccer player, actually. A bit uncultured, we’ll say, but handy out.

Underage success

In the same way, he wouldn’t hear a bar of anyone writing Kerry off this year. We all did it – people in the county, outside the county, everywhere. But he looked at Cork and saw a way to beat them. He looked at Galway and did the same. He looked at Mayo and reckoned they had a chance even though they were underdogs. And once you’re in a final, you find a way to win.

So now it’s up to everybody else. Teams all around the country have to be looking at Kerry and going, ‘Well, where’s our excuse? Kerry lost a load of players and had no underage success and they won an All-Ireland, so who are we to complain about our lot in life?’

If you’re Diarmuid Connolly or Paul Flynn looking at that game on Sunday, you must be sick. The same if you’re Cillian O’Connor or Aidan O’Shea. You’re sitting there thinking, ‘How did we let that one go?’

Kerry won’t go away, not with Fitzmaurice in charge. But the bar is going to be higher. Dublin, Mayo, Donegal, Cork – all these teams have Kerry to aim at. Armagh are getting better, Galway could be too. Nothing is set in stone. We all go away now for the winter and start again in January.

And everybody looking at Kerry will be more determined than ever to come back at them and take their crown. You have to be, otherwise what are you in the game for?

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