Everything back on the table as Kerry start over
IN the music industry there's a theory that while artists and bands can often hit the jackpot with their debut album, it's the follow up package of songs can define their real worth.
It's known as the 'difficult second album syndrome' and there are bargin bins packed full of chart-topping debut albums from musicians and bands who have struggled to ever regain that sort of critical or commercial success.
The same theory could be said to apply to GAA managers. That one chance to make a first impression often reaps great rewards in the first year, only for the hype to dampen down and the curve of progress to plateau off to abscurity.
For sure, making a music album - inspiration - isn't quite the same as managing a football team - perspiration - and most managers will insist that they can only fully realise their plans and ambitions in Year 2 or Year 3 of their tenure. Nonetheless, the second year in charge for an inter-county GAA manager can be a difficult time, especially if Year 1 can produced enough to heighten expectations in what could be that 'difficult second season'.
Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice shouldn't fall into that category, even if the expectation in Kerry every year is the same: win the Sam Maguire or have the year deemed a failure. Fitzmaurice, more than anyone, knows and lives by that mantra, but right now in Kerry those expectations have to be put in context.
Kerry were a whisker away from beating Dublin last September and the general belief is that they would have gone on to beat Mayo and claim a 37th All-Ireland title for the county. As it stands now, Kerry are being ranked the third best team in the land and in the general shake-up, but by no means favourites, to win the All-Ireland this year.
As Kerry set out on another season with a McGrath Cup game this Sunday, the Munster Championship and All-Ireland Series are a considerable distance away. Eoin Brosnan and the irreplacable Tomas O Se are gone, and the Gooch, Declan O'Sullivan, Aidan O'Mahony and Kieran Donaghy are shoving into their thirties. Not quite the appaling vista that some predicted a couple of seasons ago, but the landscape continues to chance for Kerry football, and the team is no longer out there on its own on the horizon with the rest trailing in its wake.
"We don't know where we are at to be honest," Fitzmaurice says of the here and now as he contemplates the new season, which starts on Sunday. "The college teams are, in terms of preparation, a step ahead of us, from the point of view of getting ready for Sigerson, but you'd still hope to be competitive. In an ideal world we would get the three [McGrath Cup] games and then have a weekend off before the Dublin game [in the first round of the League]. That would be great.
"Last year I think we ended up playing six games in six weeks and by the time we played Dublin in Killarney [second League game] because of injuries and a lot of other things going on we ended up with the same group of players really playing six weekends in a row which was a big ask that early in the season. I think that told in our performances against Mayo and Dublin that we weren't at it. This time around I wouldn't be as fearful that if we did happen to go to a [McGrath Cup] final that it would have a negative impact on us. You'd hope that with a weekend off inbetween and with Dublin then in Croke Park it's a big incentive for the lads. I don't think fatigue should be an issue this year whereas I think it was last year with those six games in as many weeks."
Fitrzmaurice agrees that the absence of Limerick, Tipperary, Clare and Waterford from this year's McGrath Cup probably devalues the competition, while the unavailability of the Dr Crokes players and a number of others who are college-tied leaves him with a very thin squad for a very thin competition.
"Without the other four counties it probably weakens the competition a bit but at the same time we have a game on Sunday and we just have to see where that takes us. I suppose from the colleges' point of view it's great preparation for them in terms of Sigerson (Cup) preparation and I'd say they were anxious to proceed with it. As for us, we have a game on Sunday and if we get over that we have another game the following Sunday. We are very much relaxed about the McGrath Cup this year. We will have a look at a share of players in it and see how we get on it in, but the main focus for us is the first of February and the start of the League.
"The big thing is that with the college players being college-tied there are limitations in what we can do. Often times they are the fellas you want to look at closely at this time of year. From that point of view your hands a tied a bit. For the moment we have the Crokes fellas away and a couple of fellas coming back a bit later on, so I won't say we will be threadbare, but we won't have huge numbers available to us for the McGrath Cup. The fellas that are available to us we will us and we will take in on a game by game basis, and take it like that.
"I've gone on record before saying that in an ideal world you'd love to see the club championships finished in the calendar year. Even if it [senior club championship] was run along the lines of the junior and intermediate championships with the final in early February it would just make it a bit easier for the inter-county set-up. For the Crokes lads hopefully they will finish the job this year and go all the way to Croke Park on March 17, and if that happens they will miss the entire McGrath Cup and five League games which is a lot. The fellas you'd love to have a look at are missing that opportunity but that's just the way the scheduling is and there's not a whole lot we can do about it."