Monday 23 January 2017

Peter Canavan: Fitzmaurice paid for indecision as Dubs stuck to guns

Peter Canavan

Published 26/09/2015 | 02:30

Donnchadh Walsh in action against Dublin's Jonny Cooper
Donnchadh Walsh in action against Dublin's Jonny Cooper

Prior to last Sunday's All-Ireland final, I said that Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice would have the big calls to make on the day. That proved to be the case and for the first time in his managerial career, I think he got it wrong.

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I also suggested Dublin would be predictable in their game-plan, and they were. Jim Gavin's men worked on a system and they didn't deviate from it.

That same level of assurance was not so evident with Kerry.

There appeared to be some discord along the Kerry sideline during the second half.

From the throw-in, some of the Kerry players appeared nervous and indecisive, something not normally associated with the Kingdom.

Composure

Whether it was Dublin's defensive strategy, their tenacity, or simply the awful weather that had Kerry at odds, we don't know, but the composure that we expected to see never materialised.

As a result, the game slipped further and further away from them and then frustration set in.

The origins of Dublin's victory can be traced back to their semi-final defeat to Donegal last year. They were labelled chokers, bottlers and cowards.

There was a hurt there and they carried it through. Gavin used that. He came up with a systematic approach and his players stuck to it.

Fitzmaurice's apparent indecision is being used as a stick to beat him with. It's amazing how managers can differ in their approach.

I can recall playing in several Tyrone games under Mickey Harte when things weren't going well. Sometimes, he didn't make any changes, just demanded more effort from his players.

There are times when you just have to be patient and expect that the players can step it up and improve things.

Gavin was clear-cut in the way he wanted to play. Look at Dublin's kickouts. After ten minutes, with Kerry pushing up, they were making life difficult for Stephen Cluxton. But he didn't deviate from the game-plan. He still used the ball from the restarts; he didn't go long and make it 50-50.

Taking James O'Donoghue off was a puzzling move from Fitzmaurice. In the closing stages, they needed a goal. But one of the best finishers in the game was sitting on the bench.

O'Donoghue has played his best football alongside Kieran Donaghy. If those two had more time on the pitch together, Kerry would have gained a better dividend.

Ultimately, their lack of competitive games caught them out. The Kildare game was a hiding; the Tyrone game was competitive, but they only had one close game in ten weeks. It's not ideal preparation.

They should have retained their defensive approach from last year's final. Pushing up on the Dublin kickout was a good tactic, but as soon as Dublin won it, Kerry should have sat back. If they were to play it again tomorrow, I would have no doubt that they would.

In the inclement weather conditions, how many points were scored outside the 45-metre line? Any?

By dropping players back into those pockets of space in front of Bernard Brogan and Paddy Andrews, it would have made things harder for Dublin.

However, Kerry will be delighted Fitzmaurice is staying on for another three years, although there may be a change or two in the backroom.

Two years ago, a lot of people were writing off this Kerry team. Not too many people expected them to reach back-to-back All-Ireland finals.

Fitzmaurice will learn from what is only one poor game on the sideline in three years, just as Dublin recovered from last year's defeat to Donegal.

Kerry still have the players, and in Fitzmaurice they have a man those players all respect.

Can Dublin dominate?

They have the players and the panel to do it, although they would need to get a bit more out of the last few years' U-21 players.

There is a chasing pack. Teams will emerge with a new system, new styles of play and there will be a lot to learn from the National League. But retaining Sam Maguire comes with a health warning.

Moving forward, I have two requests for those in the corridors of power in our Association.

One is to set up a task force to look into the restructuring of our Championship. 2015 has seen more ideas and proposals on this topic than any other subject, so there is plenty to debate.

Arising from this will be a new fixtures master-plan, with the often forgotten club player now fully included.

My second request should be somewhat easier to solve. In Croke Park we have a stadium the envy of many across the world.

The stadium tours and premium level facilities are excellent; they compare favourably to the finest stadia in the world.

That leaves just one area to rectify - the playing surface. There is no way the rain last Sunday should have caused the slipping and sliding that it did. Different types of footwear doesn't seem to matter.

The fact that some players refuse to wear screw-in studs due to the hard surface tells its own story.

As those fortunate enough to have graced the old sod in Croker will testify, it was a dream to play on, much more forgiving on the body. There's no way the same amount of slipping takes place in soccer and rugby in wet conditions.

It is frustrating for spectators and management to see players lose their footing, so imagine what it is like for a player on the biggest day of the year to feel as if he's dancing on ice.

It's not in player's nature to come out and criticise Croke Park but it's in their interests that this matter is addressed. A case-study for the GPA perhaps?

In the aftermath of Sunday's game Joe Kernan suggested the idea of installing a retractable roof but if this isn't a viable option, then the sooner the authorities decide to investigate the playing surface the better.

Championship needs to be jazzed up as does the game's PR strategy

Was it really as bad a year for football as some are saying?

The truth is that, as in every year, there were high and low points. A good final can often paper over the cracks of a really poor year but as we didn't get that, then it's easy to be negative.

It's clear though, that the Championship structure does need to be looked at. It could do with being condensed, as we discussed on these pages a few weeks ago, with more competitive games.

We still have a great product. There were high-scoring games and tense affairs. There is an array of different tactical approaches and there are so many tactical angles, strategies that teams and managers can put in place now. It's far more interesting than in decades gone by.

Attendances are up and continue to grow.

Too many of the naysayers receive too much publicity, and it's clearly an attention-seeking issue with them.

All the same, PR needs to be looked at. There is still room to improve the profile of our players, footballers and especially hurlers. Maybe the crowd need more entertainment, get them through the gates, by increasing the razzmatazz. It's not to everyone's taste, but it's a day out. So be it.

You go into Dublin the night after a big game and buildings have full-size pictures of James O'Donoghue and Aidan O'Shea. It can feel spectacular. When you think of all the tourists that come to Ireland, what do they think they are looking at, soccer or rugby players? The tourists should be enticed to Croke Park, especially to fill out the stadium for the quarter-finals.

This is our culture, Irish culture. Is it a better cultural experience to see an incredible sporting spectacle, or to sit in a pub with a turf fire, drinking pints?

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