Fitzmaurice praises contribution of basketball coach Weldon
Kerry boss still working with extended panel of 40 as he plots summer campaign
Eamonn Fitzmaurice: said Killarney basketball coach James Weldon ‘has a different eye and a different take on things’. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Every manager likes to believe they’re bringing something different to the championship, and Eamonn Fitzmaurice is no exception. A specially extended panel of 40 players. A draft of young talents including last year’s standout minor David Clifford. And a heightened spatial awareness.
At least that last part was Fitzmaurice’s intention when recruiting James Weldon to his Kerry backroom team, the highly respected basketball coach from Killarney has worked at both national and Superleague level in Ireland, and also spent some time shadowing international teams.
A member of the St Paul’s club, Weldon is also renowned for his tactical insights, as well as the core basketball skills and techniques such as swift movement of the ball and that heightened spatial awareness.
“I’m delighted with him,” said Fitzmaurice, in his sixth season as manager, speaking ahead of Kerry’s Munster football championship opener against Clare on Sunday.
“The big thing with James, because there are aspects of basketball and football that are so transferable, we wanted our thinking as a management challenged, and he has done that.
“He has taken parts of training here and there, and he has a different eye and a different take on things. He’s involved in both defence and offensively, he has ideas on both. He has good, good ideas, and great manner.”
Fitzmaurice is not the first football manager to bounce some ideas off a basketball coach. Dublin forwards’ coach Jason Sherlock is equally renowned for his basketball skills, and Mark Ingle has also worked with Dublin. In Roscommon, Liam MacHale also brings his basketball brain to the management of Kevin McStay.
Kerry forward Kieran Donaghy has long praised the basketball skills he brings to his game, and again spent the early part of the season playing with his club Tralee Warriors. Weldon’s success on the court includes 10 national titles in four seasons with the Limerick’s UL Huskies.
Fitzmaurice also confirmed his intention to work off an extended panel this summer, with the Super-8s in mind, rather than trim it back at this time of the year as he normally would.
“We haven’t really cut it to be honest. I suppose we are conscious that it’s kind of a unique summer the format that’s coming up, that if we are to get that far we’ll need a big squad that’s ready to go. So at the moment all of the group are involved really. All of the lads that were involved during the league are still involved with us.
“Some of the more experienced players who didn’t see much league game time are coming into good form now. This is the right time for them to be getting there. The football we play in training is, I would argue, as good as any challenge game you are going to play. So those lads are injury free now, they’re fresh and they’re getting good football. They’re not ready, all of them, right now, but they will be.”
Shane Enright (ankle) will miss the Clare game, as will Donnchadh Walsh and Daithí Casey, though their injuries are short-term; footballer of the year James O’Donoghue is back fit, although Fitzmaurice also confirmed that Johnny Buckley has opted out of the panel for “personal family reasons”.
Sunday’s game in Killarney is their fourth championship meeting in three seasons. Kerry beat Clare by six points in last year’s Munster semi-final, and twice in 2016 – by 11 points in the 2016 All-Ireland quarter-final, and by four points in the 2016 Munster semi-final.
“I think they’re a better team,” Fitzmaurice said of Clare, who beat Limerick 1-23 to 0-14 in the first round. “Going back to the first time we played them in 2014 they have progressed every year since then. I think what’s noticeable about them this year is that strength and conditioning-wise they have definitely progressed on another level again. That was definitely very noticeable against Limerick.
“They’ve new players, Ciarán Malone was wing forward, he got 1-3 from play. Eoin Cleary, who would have played in the corner against us in the past, he was centre forward, looked very good, kicked five points from play. Jamie Malone we know about, he was very good on the other side. Their inside forwards, Evan Courtney who played football with UCC, he’s lively. And we know all about David Tubridy and Keelan Sexton, we’d have been up against them the last few years.”
There were only six places between them in the league, Kerry finishing fifth in Division One, Clare third in Division Two. But Clare’s last win over Kerry in the championship remains the shock 1992 Munster final victory.