HE won't exactly admit it, but deep down Eamonn Fitzmaurice will appreciate that he and his players dodged a bullet. Three bullets in fact.
Of the four teams in the bowl Kerry drew was is arguably the weakest. Say what you will about Cavan, they are still a Division Three team that is on the way up but isn't quite there yet. They are eminently beatable, and Fitzmaurice is confident that something close to a top performance from Kerry will be good enough to book the Kingdom's place in the All-Ireland semi-finals.
It's perhaps somewhat instructive that despite their being three of the round round Qualifiers played in Croke Park last Saturday, the Kerry manager took himself to Carrick-on-Shannon to watch the All-Ireland champions take on Laois. On the one in four chance that Kerry drew Donegal Fitzmaurice clearly wanted to have a first-hand look at Jim McGuinness's team. As it turned out Kerry were paired against Cavan, a team Kerry hasn't played since 1997, and a county that has never graced the All-Ireland quarter-finals. So, a handy match for Kerry then?
"We certainly won't be taking Cavan for granted. They have momentum built up for a decent little run in the Qualifiers, and though they didn't play all that well against London the last day that was probably to be expected. They were going into a match that no one gave London a chance in," Fitzmaurice said. "They're a division three team but they had good wins against Meath and Monaghan in that division, and I thought they were unlucky against Monaghan in Ulster. We've since seen what Monaghan did to Donegal and how Monaghan are being viewed, so that puts into perspective where Cavan are at. They have good forwards, they are well set up defensively and they will come at Kerry with everything they've got.
"If you go back to 2010 when Kerry played Down in the quarter-final there was a common belief out there that Kerry would win that game handy enough. We saw what happened. We have to be ready for this Cavan team and we have to have our guard up. I think if we prepare properly and have the right attitude and produce a really strong performance then we would be confident enough of just about getting through," the Kerry boss added on Tuesday afternoon.
Reflecting on the Munster Final win over Cork, Fitzmaurice said there was plenty for the management to take from the performance, some of oit very positive and some areas that needed addressing.
"I suppose the best aspect of the Cork game for us and I am sure for Cork as well, was that there was fantastic context after that game. It was a tough championship game against real opposition. Certain things we tried worked out very well. Then there was room for improvement in a lot of areas, particularly in the last twenty minutes, but we learned an awful lot. We learned about ourselves, we probably mistimed our substitutions; we left them a bit too late. We did not put on five subs which should done keeping in mind that it was a very hot day. So all round it was great to win the game, but it was a case of plenty done but plenty more to do at the same time. We should have made substitutions earlier, knowing fellas would tire in the conditions and so on. We only put on four when we should have put on five. When you've a very competitive panel and everyone wants action. If you waste a substitution then there's one more guy going away from the squad disappointed he got no action. We're learning all the time as well – every match, every training session you'd try to soak stuff up. We're not the finished article," he admitted.
Fitzmaurice acknowledges that Croke Park hasn't been the happy hunting ground for Kerry in recent years, with Championship defeats to Down (2010), Dublin (2011) and Donegal last year diminsihing somewhat the aura of invincibility that Kerry had built up in the Noughties.
"Kerry love going to Croke Park, especially this group of lads they love playing up there. They know we have had bad days but we have had plenty of good days as well so I think the mood is one of anticipation. Any footballer wants to play there, it's made for kickers, it's made for good football, it's made for the way we play the game.
"Most people know that from now on the season really ramps up and it's from now on that we're going to be judged on. We knew that all along. When the bit of flak was flying early on in the year we knew that it's this time of the year in Kerry that counts. We're relishing the chance to get back up to Croke Park and to see if we're able to compete up there still."