Fitzmaurice tweaking his line-up as Kerry focus on bigger picture
Possible league final with Dublin would focus the attention of all in the Kingdom
Kieran Donaghy: has added his substantial presence to Kerry’s options at centrefield. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
For Kerry, a league semi-final is like one of those in-between curiosities they bring you in a fancy restaurant. A ramekin of mottled walnut ganache with a desiccated beetroot crouton, or some such.
You didn’t ask for it, you’re not overly pushed about it but it’s obviously no hardship to try it out. One way or another, it’s not the thing you’ll remember when you come to talk about the overall experience later on.
But a final against the Dubs? Well, that’s the main course.
Through the winter, nothing hung heavier over the Kingdom than the All-Ireland final where they were so thoroughly undressed by Dublin.
Kerry play in plenty of finals so Kerry have lost plenty of finals. But you had to go back decades to the last time they just didn’t show up in one.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice had built up plenty of credit since taking on the job nobody wanted in 2012 but getting tactically outpointed in September definitely drained a measure of it away.
It’s hard to imagine Fitzmaurice filling out too many teamsheets with all five of them on it at the one time – Sheehan isn’t named to start tomorrow, returning from a hand injury – but they’re all still there, still contributing.
In terms of new – and newish – blood, there have been eye-catching cameos from Alan Fitzgerald and Brendan O’Sullivan in attack.
Fitzgerald came up in the same under-21 vintage of James O’Donoghue, Stephen O’Brien and Paul Geaney but has taken until now to make a real impact.
While his league will be best remembered for his clash with Neil McGee – take it he lost no friends in Kerry for boxing the head off the Donegal full-back once people saw the video – from a footballing point of view, he has marked out a piece of turf for himself.
O’Sullivan too has impressed off the bench. Pacy and athletic, he could find himself an option for the last 15 minutes of games if things fall his way through the summer.
Mainly though, Fitzmaurice looks to be set on making new dishes with familiar old ingredients.
The two headline moves of the league have been Kieran Donaghy to midfield and Paul Murphy to centre-forward. Whether either represents a strategy for the long term, nobody is quite certain just yet. But the thinking behind both moves is interesting to all.
In Donaghy’s case, it’s partly a matter of necessity in the absence of Anthony Maher. But there’s a broader angle to it too, a feeling that, at 33, Donaghy needed to offer the group more than all-round likability and a bit of intermittent menace at the edge of the square.
Tie downMichael Murphy
Allied to his visibly improved fitness, it has made him harder to tie down and given opposition teams the headache of working out what to do with him.
Kerry lost to Dublin for many reasons last September but high on the list was the fact that they were forced to play the game on Dublin’s terms.
The final’s signature moment – Philly McMahon soft-shoe-shuffling past Colm Cooper and swinging over a point from under the Hogan Stand in stoppage time at the end of the first half – summed up everything that was wrong about their day.
Cooper has all the gifts a Gaelic footballer could ask for but a defender, he ain’t.
Paul Murphy is though. Indeed, he is famously one of three Rathmore defenders to be named man of the match in an All-Ireland final, along with O’Mahony and Tom O’Sullivan.
But he is, as this league campaign has shown, more of a footballer than the other two.
He won’t be shooting the lights out but since they’re not short on players who will, that’s no big issue.
What he brings is an ability to cover and track and mop up the bits and pieces. Fitzmaurice is far happier to see all that stuff taking place in the opposition half than in Kerry’s.
Murphy won’t thread jaw-dropping passes like Cooper did from centre-forward but the way the game has gone, Cooper wouldn’t be doing that now anyway. I
None of this is set in stone yet and it will be worth watching how Donaghy and Murphy transfer their new roles to the wide expanses prevalent at Croke Park.
These between-course curiosities aren’t exactly filling but they bring their own nourishment all the same.