O'Donnell rues 'stage fright' as Fitzmaurice hails 'selfless' spirit
Published 11/04/2016 | 02:30
The parallels between Roscommon and Leicester were easy to draw for the past few weeks.
Both were the cuckoos in the nest, operating at a level that almost no-one expected. But as the Foxes took another step towards the most unlikely Premier League title in history yesterday, Roscommon were reminded that winning football matches in February and March is much different to winning games after the clocks go back.
No-one makes that distinction like Kerry. Under Eamonn Fitzmaurice, their early Allianz League form has been poor but they have but they have built steadily over the spring.
Yesterday they turned in a near complete performance that brought about a sixth consecutive win since Roscommon won in Killarney in round two and mixed a ruthlessness with a pragmatic defensive approach.
When Diarmuid Murtagh clipped over a score in the 52nd minute, every Kerry player was inside his own '65'. Kerry still led by ten points at that stage but they weren't taking any chances.
Usually Kerry left two up front but the rest were charged with funnelling back whenever Roscommon came forward, with even Colm Cooper helping to clog the route to goal.
"That goes down to the spirit in the group," Fitzmaurice said when asked about his players' willingness to work back.
"There is great spirit and a collective thing that we have built through the League - if you want to win silverware be it a National League or a Munster title or an All-Ireland later on, you need that sense of selflessness that thankfully is there at the moment."
Roscommon joint-manager Fergal O'Donnell (pictured) agreed afterwards that his side struggled to break Kerry down as they managed just six points from play over the 70 minutes.
"It was their ability to transition compared to us, that when they get back so quick they can then come up the field," he said ruefully.
"Like, Kieran Donaghy can float in at 14 and next minute you look and he's back in the full-back line. That's something we have got to look at."
Roscommon's no-show means there's little in terms of real analysis that Kerry can take from the second half but Darran O'Sullivan's man of the match performance was a bright spot for Fitzmaurice and underlined the dizzying number of options available to the Kingdom manager, with Anthony Maher and James O'Donoghue not expected to return to action until the Championship.
"He's injury-free. That's the thing with Darran this year," said Fitzmaurice.
"The last couple of years he'd been carrying injuries and from about this time last year on he's been injury-free and it's allowed him to get a good bit of training under his belt, get really fit and come into a line of form that he's maintained throughout the League.
"So it's great for us that he's playing so well and long may it continue into the Championship as well."
O'Donnell suggested that perhaps his side suffered stage fright. After a spring of sticking their finger in the eye of the established order, they found the waters too deep.
"Coming out of defence, we kept turning back. I don't know why that is - it wasn't as if Kerry pinned us back," he lamented.
"I thought maybe we were a little bit in awe of them. I think we may have got a bit of stage fright out there.
"There's been a lot of media about us getting there and I suppose the Mayo game kind of showed up our shortcomings.
"We know where we're at. We know. . . like, the biggest thing we found out is about game awareness, the decisions that we make when we're under pressure.
"That's something that we really have to learn from these big games, that you have to be smart.
"If you turn over the ball, especially around the middle, then you get punished, and that's what happened us today, and it was the same against Mayo."
Kerry meet Dublin in what will be the first League final between the sides since 1987 in a fortnight's time.
The All-Ireland champions will offer the sternest examination possible of Kerry's rearguard.
"It's national silverware so it's significant," said Fitzmaurice, who expects Johnny Buckley to be fit for the decider, despite being forced off with a quad injury in the first half yesterday.
"A lot of lads don't have a National League medal, and of course if you win one with how competitive Division 1 is nowadays, it is something that is hard earned.
"So it would be fantastic to win it and we'll be going all out for it in two weeks' time."
"It's great to be back in a National League final. We haven't been there in seven years.
"We get another game against Division 1 opposition which will be good for us as well so, yeah, it's good to be back in the final."