Fitzmaurice confident Kerry will benefit from long lay-off
Published 29/07/2016 | 02:30
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice feels the freshness provided by their route to the All-Ireland quarter-final can supplant any lack of game fitness they may have from having had so few games so far.
No team left in the championship has played fewer games but it's a situation Kerry have found themselves in so often in the past and one he knows they are well equipped to deal with.
Kerry have lost only two of their previous 15 All-Ireland quarter-finals - to Down in 2010 and Donegal in 2012 - and with Clare providing opposition, the 'soft' nature of their potential route has been highlighted since the pairings became apparent last weekend.
But Fitzmaurice believes Clare again is a better challenge than Derry would have provided and feels their momentum makes them a better team than they were when they met in a Munster semi-final in June.
"They've improved since last June and they'll have serious confidence and momentum, which are two key ingredients in sport if you're trying to win games. Derry would have given us a new challenge and a different challenge, but not a better challenge, Clare is better than Derry," he reasoned.
"You're going in against a team who have momentum and have been playing games week in, week out.
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"The other side of it then is will there be a bit of fatigue on their part, which shouldn't be on our part. It's a tough one. They have a level of match fitness at the moment that we probably don't have so it's something we'll just have to factor in and hit the ground running if we can."
Fitzmaurice also feels the energy provided by the cohort of young players introduced to the squad in recent months has helped them to put the disappointment of the league final defeat to Dublin behind them.
Jack Savage is the latest recruit, though 2014 All-Ireland minor winner Michael Burns got injured on club duty.
"We've brought in a lot of young footballers who have brought fierce energy to things. There's a good few of those fellas who will be contesting places on the squad on Sunday. They are doing well, Tom O'Sullivan, Barry O'Sullivan, Brian ó Beaglaoich, Tadhg Morley were all there from the start but other younger lads like Andrew Barry, Jason Foley, Tony Brosnan, Killian Spillane, Gavin White, Marc O'Connor have made an impact."
Fitzmaurice admitted that filling the time over the last four weeks, when most other teams are active, can be challenging. "It is a challenge, the fact that we've a four-week gap it was great that lads had county championship and a few lads played county league games and it was good for them to get out of the bubble and play those.
"We didn't know our opposition so we focused on ourselves, which is no bad thing. We had things to improve on from the Munster Championship that we needed to get right going to Croke Park regardless of who we were going to be playing."
Fitzmaurice has acknowledged the threat posed by Clare midfield pairing, Gary Brennan and Cathal O'Connor who had his red card against Roscommon rescinded last weekend.
"We have a lot of options in the middle of the field and I thought the lads did well enough in the last two games. They have a serious midfield and it was thing we identified before we played them in June."