Saturday 24 June 2017

Cold calculation or feeling the heat?

Eamonn Fitzmaurice has stoked the fires with his comments about Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Eamonn Fitzmaurice has stoked the fires with his comments about Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If Croke Park's marketing department had undertaken the most expensive campaign to boost the attendance at Sunday's Allianz football League finals, it would not have yielded a fraction of the return that will accrue from a few minutes of Eamonn Fitzmaurice's time on Tuesday evening.

Last month's sulphurous Kerry-Dublin game in Tralee had already heightened tensions for the rematch and Fitzmaurice has now primed more incendiary devices.

What was expected to be a tribute session to mark the retirement of Colm Cooper morphed into a scattergun attack on what the Kerry manager perceives as sinister forces ganging up on his team.

They were, he argued, being depicted most unfairly, caught by "a narrative out there at the moment that I don't think is balanced at all."

When it came to talking about Dublin, his language was strong, unambiguous and far removed from the usual pre-match platitudes spouted by most managers.

He wanted it acknowledged that Dublin were "a fantastic footballing side with an outstanding manager" but there was more too which needed to be said "out of a duty to my players."

Hard-edged

According to Fitzmaurice, hard-edged Dublin were guilty of wrestling and choking Kerry players in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, having fouled their way to victory in the final five minutes of the 2013 All-Ireland final against Mayo.

He also alleged that Declan O'Sullivan "was taken out of it" in the 2011 All-Ireland final against Dublin.

And, in a show of solidarity that Mayo might find touching, Fitzmaurice spoke of the aftermath of last year's drawn All-Ireland final and "an orchestrated campaign against Lee Keegan that was effective for the replay."

He believes that Kerry are being unfairly depicted, although not specifying where and by whom.

"There is a game of football to be played and you trust the referee to get it right," he said.

Presumably, the referee will get it right if the players do. However, if they wander down the unruly path, similar to what happened in Tralee last month, Fitzmaurice clearly wants it on the record in advance that Dublin aren't blue angels under attack from green-and-gold devils.

Comments from the Dublin camp probably contributed to Fitzmaurice's irritability. Asked after last Sunday's win over Monaghan whether he expected the final to be similar to the Tralee clash, Jim Gavin replied: "I can't speak for Kerry. There was a lot of off-the-ball activity in that game. All I can speak for is how Dublin approach the game and we'll continue to play our traditional style of football."

Fitzmaurice may well have seen that as an implication that Kerry were the aggressors and Dublin the innocent victims. Dublin defender, Philly McMahon took it a stage further on Monday, inferring that Kerry had joined a string of teams doing whatever it took to stop Dublin.

"Why wouldn't Kerry try and be more physical? It's not something we're complaining about, it just gives us another way of trying to adapt to the game and be smarter footballers.

"Certainly, Mayo in the first All-Ireland final last year, there were similarities between that and the game in Tralee. The way Kerry played in Tralee, that's what they had to do and it's not down to me to judge that. I'm a player, it's down to the officials to police that," he said.

Deliberately or otherwise, McMahon implied that two of their main rivals were resorting to questionable tactics in an attempt to break Dublin's dominance. Fitzmaurice may have seen it as an attempt to influence the referee by adroitly referencing specific games which suits Dublin's cause.

He would also have remembered last year's league final when he spoke after the defeat by Dublin about what he perceived as the unfair - and unpunished - treatment of Kieran Donaghy.

He said that Kerry moved Donaghy outfield during earlier league games because fouls on him close to goal weren't always penalised. He felt it happened again in the final.

"There was basically rape and pillage going on in front of the goals at the other side (Dublin defence) in the second half and we didn't get anything. It's very frustrating when you are being targeted and being fouled and you don't get frees," said Fitzmaurice.

His comments came after the game, when they could have no real impact, which may explain why he came out this week with such stark statements, which won't have gone unnoticed by referee Paddy Neilan.

Fitzmaurice was also annoyed after last year's All-Ireland semi-final - a game Kerry lost by two points - over an incident when Peter Crowley was flattened by Kevin McManamon as he surged into the scoring zone in search of an equaliser in stoppage time.

"I made a decision coming down the corridor (to the interview room) that I'm going to bite my lip because if I say anything, that becomes our reaction. The reaction is that Dublin are an outstanding team and I don't want to be looking at the paper tomorrow and it's saying: Fitzmaurice said this about the ref."

Nonetheless, he was obviously incensed by the incident and would not have taken any consolation from the admission a few weeks ago by referee David Gough (Meath) that he was unsighted and could not make a proper call on the Crowley-McManamon clash. Fitzmaurice clearly believes that Kerry got no breaks from referees in Croke Park last year and that they are taking a disproportionate amount of the blame for the nastier side of the clash with Dublin last month.

It explains why he has got his retaliation in first. Only time will tell if it's a wise course of action.

Irish Independent

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