Kerry draft in two, but Fitzgerald not in team

 

So Maurice Fitzgerald stays on the bench. The Kerry team named last night for Saturday's eagerly awaited All-Ireland football semi-final replay at Croke Park features two changes from that which drew with Armagh last Sunday week.

The alterations, however, see Denis O'Dwyer replace Liam Hassett at centre forward and Mike Hassett come into the corner back position in place of Killian Burns.

The hamstring injury that Liam Hassett suffered during the course of a "very physical" practice match in Killarney last weekend has been slow to heal and he had failed to train with the team this week.

But O'Dwyer's start is hardly surprising. A veteran of the successful 1997 campaign, the Waterville clubman replaced Liam Hassett in last month's Munster final and was one of the replacements in the drawn match, coming in for Aodan Mac Gearailt midway through the second half.

The introduction of Mike Hassett for Burns was less anticipated. Burns did, however, find it difficult to curtail Armagh's Oisin McConville in the drawn game and was replaced by Hassett after 53 minutes. Like his brother Liam, Mike Hassett has also got the experience of the last All-Ireland victory in 1997. There were, in fact, problems through the entire Kerry defence the last day, and if it wasn't for Seamus Moynihan, who once more takes up the full-back slot, it would have been hard to see how Kerry could have handled any of the Armagh forwards.

Fitzgerald's much-awaited return has been curtailed by a toe injury, also suffered in the drawn game, and it's now some 14 months since he last made the Kerry starting line-up. After replacing the scoreless Liam Hassett 40 minutes into the drawn match, his impact was pivotal, first of all in scoring the memorable goal to extend Kerry's lead and then in converting the late, late free to save them at the death.

He was, however, seen to been limping off the field at Croke Park afterwards and has been unable to participate in any training with Kerry since. The left big toe was subsequently X-rayed and although nothing was broken, he may have suffered serious ligament and muscle damage.

According to a source in Kerry last night, Fitzgerald has been unable to put on a football boot since that match - nor has he attempted to participate in any of the team training sessions. It remains something of a mystery as to how the injury actually happened, as Fitzgerald doesn't recall a specific impact that may have brought about the damage.

It comes as a major disappointment for both Fitzgerald and manager Paidi O Se, especially after Fitzgerald's second-half performance the last day once again underlined his special talents.

And Kerry's injury woes don't end there. Left wing forward Noel Kennelly also picked up a worrying back strain during the training match at the weekend and has been receiving daily treatment ever since. He is able to keep his place in a half-forward line that again features Mac Gearailt on the other wing.

By the end of the drawn match, however, Mac Gearailt, Liam Hassett and Kennelly had all been replaced after a fairly inept display for much of the afternoon. Much of that had to do with the highly effective combination of Armagh's trio of Kieran Hughes, captain Kieran McGeeney and Andrew McCann. O Se will be anxious for a better effort by his men this time out.

The suspected injury to Kerry midfielder Donal Daly has now cleared up and he too keeps his place alongside Dara O Se. The full-forward line of Mike Frank Russell, Dara O Cinneide and John Crowley - who scored 1-6 between then the last day - also remains unchanged.

Opponents Armagh will name their team after training this evening and it now appears increasingly likely that Diarmuid Masrden, their main injury worry ahead of the drawn match, is ready to regain his starting place. Marsden spent much of build-up to the first match recovering from an ankle injury but he appeared after just 42 minutes.

Kerry (SF v Armagh): D O'Keeffe; M Hassett, S Moynihan, M McCarthy; T O Se, E Fitzmaurice, T O'Sullivan; D O Se, D Daly; A Mac Gearailt, D O'Dwyer, N Kennelly; M F Russell, D O Cinneide, J Crowley. Subs: P O'Leary, L Hassett, K Burns, M Fitzgerald, E Galvin, M Lyons, K Dillon, T Griffin, S O'Sullivan.