Fitzmaurice: Mayo ahead of Dublin in physicality stakes
Published 20/08/2014 | 02:30
The difference between the Mayo team he is planning for now as Kerry manager and the Mayo team he faced as a player a decade ago?
Eamonn Fitzmaurice cuts straight to the chase.
Recent pre and post engagement between rival managers hasn't prompted him to mind his step in any way.
"Mayo are a way more physical. That has been the hallmark of James Horan since he came in," noted Fitzmaurice.
There is no agenda to what Fitzmaurice is saying, no hidden meaning. It's an observation about Mayo that now jumps off the page about them without pause or hesitation.
The former All-Ireland winning half-back, known for pragmatic more than dramatic assessments, views them as superior to even Dublin in that one critical aspect of the game.
"In terms of their conditioning, they are probably the premier team in the country. Dublin are obviously at a serious level as well.
"But Mayo took it there first and other teams had to react. We certainly had to in Kerry," reflected Fitzmaurice.
"There is a ferocious togetherness in the group. They showed a lot of character against Roscommon and that was a game that they could have easily folded up the tent, gone home and been beaten in.
"But they showed a lot of character to come back and win that game.
"They have a lot of the hallmark of champions about them and have been very, very close the last couple of years.
"In neither game did they get any breaks that you need to win an All-Ireland final, particularly a tight All-Ireland final.
"So they are a serious, serious group. They have an edge about them and if we are going to beat them, we will have to be at our best."
Fitzmaurice is conscious of how easily Galway were able to break the Kerry line the last day, with Shane Walsh, Michael Lundy and Thomas Flynn all doing damage.
It is a matter that has been given urgent priority.
"We were disappointed with the Flynn's goal of course. The backs were disappointed with it but we have addressed it in the meantime," he said.
"Mayo have some serious line breakers who can come through the middle, the likes of Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan, Aidan O'Shea and Keith Higgins.
"On the day against Galway it was not good enough certainly and it is an area we will have to improve on."
Fitzmaurice feels there has been no dip in expectancy for the team around Kerry despite the raft of high-profile retirements and injuries.
"There is still the same expectancy in Kerry. I don't think it is that much of a factor," he said. "Maybe every game we are playing we are fancied to be beaten in, so that might be a liberating thing.
"But it is not something we use or not something we talk about. I suppose there isn't any huge pressure on us externally.
"Some of the lads have learned the hard way, that if you don't back yourself when you get a chance, you can be a long time waiting for another chance to come around.
"So I think a lot of them are in a position now where they know it is a time to really grab it. While it is a young team, a lot of them in the 23-25 age bracket, it's not as if they are 19 or 20-year-olds.
"They've had experience where they have been given try-outs before and it hasn't quite worked out for them.
"They know it's time to really grab it and they have."
Fitzmaurice said he was never intimidated by the prospect of taking on the job through such a period of potential transition, even as successive League campaigns were stalked by relegation.
"I wouldn't have taken the job if I did not think that there was stuff there. I knew a lot of the players from the U-21s and the college scene," he said.
Fitzmaurice revealed that Colm Cooper has also taken an influential role within the squad over the summer as he continues to recover from his cruciate ligament tear earlier in the year.
"Colm been back in with us since we've been training in Killarney from April.
"He's been getting his rehab work done, he's been part of the group and it's good for him because that rehab work can be very lonely if you're doing it on your own.
"He's a presence in our team meetings and if he has a point to make he'll make it. He's still a very important part to the group," acknowledged the manager.
"He's enjoying it. Obviously he's finding the game days difficult because he wants to be playing."
Cooper is ahead of schedule since his injury in February but still won't play again until 2015, despite the obvious progress they see every night.
"Some nights you'd be looking at him in the stadium and he's kicking and running in straight line and he's hopping on trampolines," revealed Fitzmaurice.
"He's doing everything and you'd be saying 'it looks like there's 10 minutes in him'. But I'm afraid not."