THE construction industry might have gone the way of the dodo but Eamonn Fitzmaurice has been busy. Footings. Foundations. Frameworks.
Over the next nine months the new Kerry team manager will hope to (re)construct the road that takes Kerry back to a familiar destination: September Sunday in Croke Park. To do that, however, Fitzmaurice knows there is work to be done. Much work. That work started as soon as he was appointed Jack O'Connor's successor. It has gathered pace in the last four or five weeks. This Saturday Fitzmaurice's early work will get a little test drive.
McGrath Cup in early January won't be the sexiest adventure the new manager and his players will embark on but for the nascent manager it is an important one. Footings. It allows him to pull on the 'bainisteoir' bib for the first time without too much fuss. Foundations. It allows him to lay down some parameters in an environment where the stakes are not, comparatively, ultra-high. Frameworks. It enables him to establish a working panel and get some competitive game time into players ahead of the League campaign.
As he gets ready to don the hard hat (a useful and perhaps necessary tool) Fitzmaurice is in a good place this week. He is already becoming familiar with the headaches of senior management - injury problems, player unavailability, etc - but composure might well be Fitzmaurice's greatest attribute so, for now, he remains unnerved.
"We have done a bit of groundwork really more so than anything else because the scene has still been pretty busy for some of the lads with matches. We did about six weeks of a gym programme and since the start of December, when we were officially allowed to train (collectively) together, we have trained six times. We haven't a huge amount of work done, we have a bit done and we are just looking forward to the new year now," he says.
"With regard to a panel we still don't really have a panel in place. In terms of the McGrath Cup it's really more about who we are missing than who we have available to us. We are down a lot of bodies. We will finalise the panel for next Saturday's game on Wednesday night after training," he adds, before going through a general audit of what he has to work with. "We have Fionn Fitzgerald, Johnny Buckley and Brian Looney available to us from Dr Crokes, but the rest of the Crokes contingent will be staying with the Crokes. Paul (Galvin) is obviously with Finuge. We are down Declan O'Sullivan and Aidan O'Mahony at the moment for the game on Saturday. Donnchadh Walsh is carrying a groin injury and won't be available next weekend. Darran O'Sullivan is available to us but is carrying an injury so we will assess him on Wednesday. Bryan Sheehan is carrying an injury at the moment, he's out. Anthony Maher will be with Duagh next weekend (for the North Kerry final replay). Brian McGuire and Peter Crowley will be with their colleges.
"We will be experimental but it will be a chance to look at some other players as well. The big disadvantage of the McGrath Cup is that the players you'd really like to be looking at are playing with their college teams. Mark Griffin and James Walsh, for example, are two players we have in with us but they are playing with CIT against Cork at the weekend. Cork will be expected to win that but the two lads can't come back and play for Kerry after that. I think there should be some way of allowing lads on college teams to play with their county team once their college teams goes out of the competition.
"Still, it's games at the same time. We are looking forward to a competitive game at the weekend and if we get over that we have another competitive game the following weekend, and for the players who have been working with us for the last four or five weeks it gives them a chance to basically stake a claim. These games just give those players the chance to put their foot in the door. Even if we weren't in the McGrath Cup we would probably be looking for a few challenge matches. It's not ideal that we are down so many bodies but at the same time it's a great opportunity for the lads that are there and we are all looking forward to the game."
Of the players he has available to him there should be much interest in those who are trying to get their foot in the door. A quiet word with his old playing partner and current manager of UL, Declan O'Keeffe, has released Jack Sherwood from college commitments to play with Kerry. The Firies man has been making little ripples as a stylish half back.
Mikey and Paul Geaney were two of the star turns in the Dingle team this year. Expect the cousins to give the IT Tralee defence plenty of trouble on Saturday.
"If we can get over the game this weekend then we are out again the following weekend and if you can keep winning then you would have four competitive games in January, and that would be the ideal scenario. We are starting off the League with two very tough games, away to Mayo first and then at home to Dublin, so we will definitely be keeping half an eye on those games throughout the month of January.
"We have an indication of some kind of a squad for the first two league games but at the same time because of the Crokes situation, and with Finuge and Kenmare possibly still involved in club championships at that stage it's hard to nail down a panel until the middle of March really.
"That said, I'm happy out at the way things are going at the moment. It's a chance for others fellas and it forces us (management) to look at other fellas and that can only be a good thing in the long term," Fitzmaurice says.
The long road ahead starts here. It won't be without its twists and turns. Eamonn Fitzmaurice knows that.
The hope is that it runs all the way to September - paved in gold - and to the Sam Maguire Cup.