KERRY manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice will have learned very little from his first McGrath Cup match, suggests Paul Brennan.
NOTHING ventured nothing gained, it is reasoned, with the assumption then that if something is ventured then something must be gained. Not so.
At least not last Saturday in Dick Fitzgerald's field in Killarney where new Kerry team manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice showed a little adventure but got precious little in return. See, Kerry have conducted six field training sessions since Fitzmaurice was allowed assemble a squad of men for collective training, and for all the good last Saturday's stroll against the IT Tralee did him, the new manager might as well have conducted a seventh.
Of course, that's not Fitzmaurice's fault, nor is it the fault of the Kerry players; it's just that the ITT challenge was so poor that last Saturday's preliminary round match never really rose to anything like a contest, and thereby denying Fitzmaurice and his selectors to learn anything new that they wouldn't have already known going into Fitzgerald Stadium.
Last year this writer bemoaned the then Kerry management's decision to abandon the McGrath Cup and sit out competitive football in January. The reasons then, insofar as any were offered, included the limited number of incumbent intercounty seniors available to Jack O'Connor in January, through a combination of injuries, college commitments and others taking a prolonged winter break. The counter-argument offered here was that Kerry, as reigning McGrath Cup champions, had an obligation to defend their title and a duty to every club player aspiring to play foir his county to field a team of some sort to fulfil their fixtures last year.
Twelve months on and O'Connor's successor was keen for Kerry to compete in the McGrath Cup. It didn't suit Eamonn Fitzmaurice to make his managerial debut up in Castlebar against Mayo in the Allianz League. It wouldn't have made sense either. While the new manager has worked closely with almost all of the current Kerry players his two selectors have not. Mikey Sheehy would only have a sound second hand knowledge of these players, while the other, Cian O'Neill, has absolutely no first hand experience working with any Kerry footballer. It would have made no sense for the three men - along with Diarmuid Murphy - to sit down in the early days of February to select their first Kerry team for what will surely be an ultracompetitive match against Mayo. Rightly, the new management opted to get some useful January game time into their players via the McGrath Cup, as well as familiarising themselves with each other in match days situations.
However, Fitzmaurice and his team will have to wait until next weekend, at least, before they can deem this particular McGrath Cup exercise useful. For several reasons last Saturday's joust with the IT Tralee was a non-starter. The students simply weren't good enough to mount any sort of challenge against a decent but far from full strength Kerry team. The IT's deficiences were, obviously, beyond Fitzmaurice's control and there was very little the Kerry manager could have done to turn the game into a contest bar pulling out half (or more) of his players and replacing them with less talented footballers. Not really an option.
So, Kerry's new manager went away from his first game in charge having learned very little.
Fitzmaurice already knew that Paul Geaney and Mikey Geaney and Brian Looney are exciting and talented and industrious forwards and nothing happened last Saturday to alter that belief. Neither, however, were any of those three men sufficiently tested to give Fitzmaurice any inkling that senior inter-county football might be a step too far. Ditto for Brian Kelly, Jonathan Lyne, Jack Sherwood and Fionn Fitzgerald in the rearguard.
Of course, the McGrath Cup is never going to be the environment to separate the wheat from the chaff; only the League (to a degree) and ultimately the Championship will do that.
This Sunday Fitzmaurice expects, and should get, a far tougher test from UCC and if so then the Kerry management will learn a little more again. And if they make it through to a semifinal aghainst either Limerick or Clare, and then a potential final with Cork, they will learn more again.
Other than acknowledging the good attitude and application shown by his players last weekend Fitzmaurice and his selectors would have learned little from a futile exercise against ITT, but by the time they journey to Mayo on February 3 they will have learned much. And that is as much as they can ask for from this McGrath Cup.