THROUGHOUT what has been a difficult and trying league campaign Eamonn Fitzmaurice has always faced up to the realities of the results and performances of this Kerry team without so much as a terse answer or a ungracious word. Fitzmaurice's straight talking yet polite manner during his playing days ingratiated him with the media, and he has continued in that vein since he stepped into team management.
Kerry's first four results and all six performances in the league leading up to Sunday's contest in Omagh had drawn much comment and plenty of criticism from many quarters, and while the new manager wasn't being directly blamed for what were very uncharacteristic Kerry performances, the criticism must have stung. Indeed, most media (including this writer) forecast a Tyrone win last Sunday and subsequent relegation for Kerry, and were that to happen then the questions regarding Fitzmaurice's managerial bona fides would certainly have become a little more enquiring.
As it transpired a win over Tyrone and surviving relegation was the kind of break Fitzmaurice needed, even deserved, and under such circumstances it could have been easy for the manager to be conceited and/or bullish and/or dismissive of the assembled media. But not a bit of it. Certainly relief was the overriding emotion in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's evening events, but Fitzmaurice wasn't inclined for a 'told you so' dressing down of some who doubted that Kerry could remain a division one team.
"We knew we needed to get a result somewhere else and we got it. We just about hung on here, so we had a bit of luck today, but we haven't had too much luck throughout this league so it was good to get a bit of the rub of the green today. We are delighted to still be in division one next year, that we have got three good wins under the belt, and we're now just looking forward to the Championship," Fitzmaurice said.
"If we had been beaten today and had gone down it would have been very disappointing because four points from your games wouldn't have been a good total really. If we won today and went down it would still have been disappointing but would have been easier to take because at least we'd still have a bit of momentum going for the Championship. The fact we hung in there is great."
He acknowledged that the previous week's five-day training camp in Portugal probably helped and hindered Kerry in equal measure.
"The training camp certainly helped us. There was great togetherness and slickness in the first half but fellas definitely tired in the second half. I think as well, in fairness to Tyrone, they really ramped it up in the second half in the tackle, they got a lot of turnovers in the second half, and it's something we have to work on. The camp was always about later on in the year, and we got an lot of very good work done over there.
"We played good football in the first half. We probably played very well against Down in the first half as well. But we knew that Tyrone were going to come at us in the second half. We spoke at half time about not giving them an early goal in particular, so it was a bit disappointing that they did get a goal early in the second half from a turnover by us. That gave them serious momentum and we barely hung on at the end. The games here in Healy Park between Kerry and Tyrone, for whatever reason, have often taken that pattern where we go into the lead and they peg us back. We hung on in 2009 and we hung on today, but other days they have caught us and won the game in the end.
"They created a few goals chances, and so did we. We know we are far from the finished product, we know we have a lot of work to do. We have seven weeks until Championship and we have a lot of things ot sort out in the meantime, but it's great to be going from a position of three wins and the fact as well that we are in division one next year. It's still only early April but we are going in the right direction, definitely," Fitzmaurice said.
And with Mark Griffin, Johnny Buckley and Jonathan Lyne blending in seamlessly to the team last Sunday, would three new Championship starters represent a good League?
"We wanted to get a couple of players and we wanted to have a strong squad going forward. I think we have used thirty-three players in the course of the league, a lot of fellas got a look at it, and a lot of fellas got to realise what it takes to wear the Kerry jersey and the level that inter-county senior action is at. So I think we have a stronger panel going forward and it will be all up for grabs again for the Championship," the manager said.