Saturday 3 December 2016

Tomás Ó Sé: Eamonn Fitzmaurice the Master of the remote control

Eamonn Fitzmaurice's meticulous video analysis key factor in Kerry’s replay triumph

Published 24/07/2015 | 02:30

Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice pores over DVDs of matches to iron out problems
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice pores over DVDs of matches to iron out problems
Kerry's Shane Enright

I can't imagine Eamonn Fitzmaurice would have expended much more time around Killarney than he had to on the Sunday evening of the drawn Munster final.

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Once the post-match formalities were completed, obligations met and team meal out of the way, he'd have been up home to Tralee and into his 'lair', pulling the curtains to the outside world to begin a frank and thorough assessment of what happened and what's required.

Analysis is such a key part of the modern game and, as great as the strides in the more scientific approach to fitness and conditioning have been, the way play is dissected has made a parallel journey.

Instinct becomes as important as science, and Fitzmaurice has a nose for a detail or a trend that needs ironing it out the next day.

By the following morning I'd imagine he'd have been in regular contact with his fellow selectors and the Kerry team's analyst Paudie McCarthy agreeing angles; he will have pored over the DVD of the game at least twice to get a feel for what they need to be looking for.

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When Jack Connor came back as Kerry manager in 2009 Fitzy was a selector and took responsibility for analysis. He was a dab hand at working the software involved. His 'director's cut' was always accurate and to the point.

His meticulous mind was so well suited to this kind of work. He thrived on it.

Time was when 'video work' for a team amounted to sitting in a room together long into the night after a training session and watching sometimes grainy footage of the match from pillar to post on a VCR.

It served its purpose too but these days there is much more sophistication to any debrief.

Personalised clips are sent directly to players with specific emphasis in themselves and their likely opponent. It's the same, I'd imagine, with any county with the slightest bit of ambition. No doubt Cork's scrutiny of the draw was just as intense.

It's where replays can be won and lost, and my sense of it was that Kerry learned more and were able to put it into practice better, first with the team selection and then the application on the field.

Kerry have developed a good habit of that over the years, with the exception of the odd trip to Pairc Ui Chaoimh.

Every team uses the time differently. I remember after we beat Armagh in the 2000 All-Ireland semi-final replay, the word came back that they had flogged themselves on the training field between the two games. They may have felt the need to purge themselves of something and, possibly, it could have undone them.

I always felt a few good meetings, talking about exactly where it went wrong, taking it step by step, where you should be if the ball goes this way, that way, was the best approach.

Kerry were a different team last weekend. The team selected had a better look to it, each of the four changes in personnel having the desired effect.

It was the collective strength of Kerry's 'middle eight' in imposing their game on Cork that turned it their way.

They tackled, they chased, they turned over ball, they broke more kick-outs, they won more breaks. Donnchadh Walsh went in for a break at one stage that he had no right to win but he got it and earned a free.

They attacked Cork where Cork were strong in the drawn game. Barry and Brian O'Driscoll didn't make as many penetrating runs. The tables were turned on Alan O'Connor, who was 'nabbled'. Between them David Moran and Anthony Maher had ball over 50 times, which is phenomenal for a midfield pairing, especially in the conditions.

They stopped Cork from playing with a hunger and attitude that wasn't there the previous week. Brian Hurley, Colm O'Neill and Donncha O'Connor were held superbly.

Shane Enright was a constant pain to Hurley. He's cut from the same north Kerry granite as Liam O'Flaherty and Eamonn Breen before him. They play it hard in that part of the world and leave the flashy stuff to the townies.

Two others worth special mention: Gooch's pass to create the opening for the goal was a mark of genius and Bryan Sheehan's free-taking was just sublime. What an asset to any team.

Cork only scored two points after the break, nothing after the Kerry goal. Dare I say it, but they looked like the 'old' Cork as the game wore on, the Cork team that dropped its guard so low in three critical games over the previous 18 months.

They have a huge game ahead of them now against Kildare, a game that takes on even greater importance than any other this year.

They're still a team that should have beaten the All-Ireland champions less than three weeks earlier and simply have to press on. Pity then that we just don't see enough of that team. If we did they'd rattle anyone.

There's a touch of 'last chance saloon' for them now. They need to find some consistency.

Kerry don't come away without their own question-marks either. The manner in which Cork runners were able to penetrate them - I'm thinking Paul Kerrigan for the goal - wasn't as apparent as it was the first day. But it's a concern nonetheless.

Elsewhere, Mayo were clinical and precise in how they went about their business but the scale of their victory, for me, was another nudge towards the case for a two-tier system. Five-in-a-row is special and they did it without breaking sweat.

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Monaghan deserve tremendous credit for winning a second Ulster title in three years. They have no fear of Donegal. But the challenge for them now is perhaps even greater than anything they have faced since Malachy O'Rourke revived them three years ago.

They seem to have issues when they come south for All-Ireland quarter-finals and my big question is - can they win if Conor McManus, one of the game's outstanding forwards, is held? I have my doubts.

It struck me that two of his three superb points from play came directly from turnovers, a trend that was just as evident the night before in Killarney. The value of this 'turned over ball' continues to soar.

Donegal will regroup and, I suspect, have lost no real ground in the context of an All-Ireland title.

When you're a player there's a necessary selfishness in how you look at the Championship. You don't give a damn about what the rest of the country is doing. And the permutations for qualifiers and quarter-finals? Unless it involved Kerry and our next opponents, I never took a blind bit of notice.

Now, though, it's different. As a supporter it's my favourite time of the year, when things really open up and you know you're down to the best teams. The cream has risen, it's knock-out.

And I feel a different knot in my stomach than I once did as a player, a knot that only excitement at what's ahead can trigger.

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