‘I think it’ll be like the league in a lot of ways’ says manager
NEARLY two years of discussion and intrigue come to an end this weekend with the beginning of the Super 8s and the revamped All-Ireland quarter-final stage.
Éamonn Fitzmaurice spoke of his excitement and anticipation about how it might all pan out when he met the media last Friday ahead of the trip to Croke Park to face Galway in their first encounter of the three game Round Robin series.
“I think the games will be very even and the fact there is three different venues for the games will make it all the more exciting and a bit romantic. I think the championship needed freshening up and for us July was always a difficult month after winning a Munster Championship when we had no games and didn’t know who we would be playing,” the Kerry manager said.
With the provincial winners getting home advantage last it has led to some discussion about whether it takes the value away from winning a provincial Championship when they might be out of contention come the third game. Fitzmaurice isn’t too worried about it in advance, however.
“I think in a situation where you are fighting to make the semi-finals in your last game then home advantage is a massive thing to have. It’s really up to you to make that home game relevant and for us it will be the latest we have played at home since the qualifier with Tyrone back in July in 2012.
“I agree that the format isn’t perfect especially when there is a loophole about Croke Park being both a neutral and home venue, but I think when Padraic Duffy [then GAA Director General] spoke about it two years ago he did say that these would be some of the tweaks that would be eventually need to be addressed,” he said.
The Kerry boss feels that the year has been relatively normal compared to other ones with the preparations for the Munster Championships but welcomes the fact that training is now being tailored for more games than an uncertain wait like other years.
“We view tailoring training for matches as a positive not a negative. Joe O’Connor and
Niall O’Mahony are working with the players on that front. We watched the Round Robin in the Hurling Championship more for the effect the amount of matches had on the players as the weeks went on as we will be facing something similar now,” he said.
Some experience of the format can be found right in the Kingdom itself with the Club Championships in April running off in the same way as the Super
8s. Whether or not it gets to be as dramatic as the Premier
Junior Group which saw a semi-final spot between Churchill and Skellig Rangers decided by the last kick of the game in the
St Brendans side’s favour in a game against Listry is hard to know, but Fitzmaurice has a simple target for the group.
“You want to try and take maximum points by winning your three games and take all the permutations out of it. If you do find yourself level in the table with a side then it goes to headto-head so it vital to make sure you have that game won before any other permutation might come in.
“I think it will be like the league in a lot of ways in teams taking points off each other, which will make it very competitive.”
Kerry’s last game in the old quarter-final format was against Galway so it’s interesting that their first game in the new one is against the Tribesmen as well. Fitzmaurice believes that the Connacht Champions being a Division 1 side like the Kingdom will make them their toughest test yet.
“I thought Galway were in a good place last year only they just didn’t perform against us on the day in Croke Park. They didn’t lose a game in the league bar the final itself and they have a strong squad now and are well embedded under Kevin Walsh.
“They can play in a variety of different ways and I think despite their methods being questioned they are still successful in what they are doing. You need a variety in how you play if you want to succeed.”
The subject of punditry around Galway led Fitzmaurice to express his view that a lot of the commentary on the game itself is a bit too ‘black and white’ at the moment.
“I just feel it’s too knee-jerk, but the nature of punditry itself is that in a crowded market you have to make your voice heard. A lot of it is hysterical and when you win it doesn’t mean everything is right or when you lose that everything is wrong.
“Results create an energy one way or another amongst people but our job is to keep the players in the middle of the course we want to steer them onto,” the Kerry boss said.
In a similar vein, Fitzmaurice believes reaction to the three year plan introduced by the County Board for player development has been misunderstood.
“That initiative is a wider thing than the senior team. This is something the County Board are doing at all levels of Kerry football from development squad upwards and I don’t think people appreciate the work the County Board do in the background to make it work.
“The only time you hear about this is when something goes wrong and people are looking for someone to blame, but in terms of ourselves as a senior set-up we’ve never hidden away from fact we are a work in progress and have plenty to work on,” the Finuge clubman said.
When asked about the Croke Park factor for the new recruits on Sunday, Fitzmaurice says their performances will only be a part of the story
“We’re still very patient with the new lads and while they are only bursting to get on there in Croke Park, how they do against Galway is still only a small part of their overall develop