Saturday 3 December 2016

Kerry shoot for the stars by bringing Maurice Fitzgerald into fold

Published 29/11/2016 | 02:30

Fitzgerald played ten seasons – an age in Kerry football circles – before winning an All-Ireland medal. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Fitzgerald played ten seasons – an age in Kerry football circles – before winning an All-Ireland medal. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

In terms of a star quality, Eamonn Fitzmaurice could hardly have aimed any higher when choosing Maurice Fitzgerald as selector to join his backroom team.

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After all, there are few Kerry footballers held in the esteem that Fitzgerald is in the county. But perhaps more crucially, there's fewer still that have served the apprenticeship the Cahirciveen man did.

Think of him now and the mind's eye will see the physics-bending point in Semple Stadium against Dublin in 2001. It will also throw up the faintly ridiculous scenario where Fitzgerald had a decision to make on which foot he'd kick frees off the ground with.

The Kingdom legend was ratified as Diarmuid Murphy's replacement last night along with Padraig Corcoran, Mikey Sheehy and Liam Hassett after a playing career that sees him go down as one of the greats.

Fitzmaurice welcomed the appointment of his former teammate to the management team: “I am delighted to welcome Maurice into the Kerry senior football setup. His football knowledge, work ethic and personality will be a huge asset to us”.

But it's often forgotten just how long he had to wait before getting over the line.

Fitzgerald (pictured) played ten seasons - an age in Kerry football circles - before winning an All-Ireland medal. By the time Páidí Ó Sé helped them crack the code in 1997, he had won two All-Stars.

And perhaps that is part of what Fitzmaurice saw in the St Mary's clubman. Many in the current Kerry squad tasted success early in their career when winning in 2014. The intervening seasons have seen them fall short of their own standards and exist in the shadow of Dublin.

Fitzgerald's presence in the group is a reminder that even the most gifted footballers don't get things easy.

2017 is a big year for Fitzmaurice and Kerry. Four championship defeats in a row to Jim Gavin's side has left a scar. They'll be operating in a world where Dublin are gunning for three in a row, and many expect the empire to strike back.

Things are far from grim for the Kingdom. They weren't too far away against Dublin this year. And three All-Ireland minor titles in a row suggest the production line is moving well, even if some of their finest outputs are likely to be lured Down Under by the AFL.

Mould

Having Fitzgerald around to help mould the likes of David Clifford can only help Kerry down the line. In one way, Fitzmaurice might have been something of a surprise selection, given that since he finished up with intercounty football in the wake of their All-Ireland semi-final hammering at the hands of Meath, he has largely shunned the limelight.

However, he continued playing up until last year, when he lined out in a Kerry senior league game in December at 46.

And more recently he has made waves on the other side of the white line. He steered his home club St Mary's to Kerry, Munster and All-Ireland club IFC successes, while he also helped the Coláiste na Sceilge senior team.

On Saturday, he'll lead St Mary's into another South Kerry final against Skellig Rangers in what is expected to be his last game with the club before throwing his lot in with the county set-up.

After that, Kerry and Fitzmaurice will hope that Fitzgerald can lead them back to the top of the mountain once more.

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