Donaghy axed ... or is it a mind game from Fitz?
All will be revealed come throw-in but Rebels will be ready for every eventuality in Killarney
WHEN Eamonn Fitzmaurice was appointed Kerry manager last August, questions were raised as to how difficult he would find it to deal with players who had soldiered with him during his days as the Kingdom's centre-back.
Would loyalty to his former colleagues influence his thinking?
The answer, ostensibly at least, arrived yesterday when Kieran Donaghy (below) was omitted from the team for the Munster final next Sunday. It's the biggest call of Fitzmaurice's management so far.
That's assuming, of course, that the announced team is the one that actually lines up against Cork in Fitzgerald Stadium.
Deliberately misleading the public by issuing incorrect teams is a growing trend, with an increasing number of managers deeming the subterfuge to be tactically shrewd when, in reality, it has no impact whatsoever on the opposition.
Managers plan for all eventualities, including the possibility (likelihood?) that the opposition line-up will be different to the published list.
Not for the first time, Kildare wandered down that route last Sunday, making no fewer than three changes to the announced team for the clash with Dublin.
A 16-point defeat suggests that it wasn't exactly a resounding success.
So, if in the minutes before the start of the Munster final, Donaghy's name is called out as being on the Kerry team, it won't send Conor Counihan scurrying to his selectors with an anguished look on his face and plaintive wail on his lips: "Lads, we never thought of that, what the hell are we going to do?"
The fact that the Kerry team was announced on Wednesday afternoon, which is early by modern-day standards, will lead sceptical minds to suspect that Donaghy's demotion is indeed part of an attempted confusion technique, although quite what purpose that would serve is unclear.
After all, Cork will regard it in much the same way that the electorate views a pre-election promise as something that might happen but probably won't.
Of course, it may turn out that Kerry will indeed line out without Donaghy, who was replaced on the hour mark in the Munster semi-final win over Waterford. If so, it suggests a different approach to Kerry attacking strategy by Fitzmaurice, perhaps even specifically for the Cork game.
Donaghy had an indifferent game against Cork in last year's Munster semi-final before being replaced together with Paul Galvin in the second half.
The new Kerry management may have decided that hoisting long, diagonal deliveries in Donaghy's direction is no longer a fruitful ploy in any company, let alone against Cork, who have been dealing with it on an annual basis for several years.
Instead, Kerry may opt for quicker ball through the channels, using Darran O'Sullivan's speed as the major threat close to goal.
Only time will tell precisely what Fitzmaurice has in mind but irrespective of the eventual line-outs, there is a massive interest in a game which finally brings Cork and Kerry out to play at a level where they will be asked serious questions.
Both have already won two championship games but such was the weakness of their four Munster rivals that next Sunday's game will, in effect, be the first real test either county has experienced this summer.
And since both appeared to take an ambivalent attitude to the Allianz League, it's also the first time that Cork and Kerry supporters – and indeed the wider public – will see how the fourth and fifth favourites for the All-Ireland title have re-programmed themselves since last season.
Both won three and lost four of their seven Division 1 league games, with Kerry rescuing themselves from relegation with a win over Tyrone in the final round. Incidentally, Donaghy played extremely well in that game, scoring 0-3 from open play and also being involved in much of the attacking enterprise which mesmerised Tyrone for 40 minutes before Mickey Harte's men took over and came within a point of hauling in a 12-point Kerry lead.
Meanwhile, Cork, who won the Division 1 title for the previous three years, ran their worst spring campaign for several seasons, finishing fifth in the table.
However, their disappointment appeared to be minimal, suggesting that they believed a less driven approach to the league might produce a better championship dividend.
Kerry lost their first four games, leaving them with no option but to raise the intensity in the battle against relegation, which was eventually won, thanks to victories in their final three games.
It's difficult to know if the indifferent league offers any guide for the championship but the Munster quarter- and semi-finals most certainly don't, since Cork and Kerry won the four games by a combined total of 70 points – the highest cumulative margin for the first two rounds in the province's history. Those games were useless in determining if the two Munster giants are better prepared than last year to take on the major outside forces.
The only pointer to the relative status of both counties this year comes from their league clash in late March, which Kerry won by four points in Tralee.
Cork set themselves up very defensively on that occasion and it looked like working when they led by a point after 50 minutes before then conceding five points.