'Unified' Tipperary carry big threat, insists Fitzmaurice
Published 29/06/2016 | 02:30
The last time Kerry faced Tipperary in a Munster final must seem like a lifetime ago for Kingdom manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice.
It was 1998 and Fitzmaurice was just establishing himself in the Kerry set-up. And into his patch came then dual player Brendan Cummins.
"I was wing-back that day, I was marking Brendan Cummins," Fitzmaurice recalled. "He was playing football that year. It went fine for me. I enjoyed it. At that stage I was 20 years of age and you are being thrown into that. It was bonus territory for me to be in there that young and to be coming into a team that had won the All-Ireland the year before.
"I really enjoyed it and we won. I remember it was a tight enough game. We played quite well, but Tipperary got a goal in the last 15 minutes and came at us quite a bit. We saw it out. I have only good memories of it really."
The teams met again the following year and once again, Kerry came out on top. This time, the result was shrouded in controversy. Jerry Murphy's shot famously rattled off the stanchion and had gone out of play but the officials on duty adjudged it had hit the woodwork and rebounded back into play.
And Murphy made no mistake at the second attempt as Kerry ran out 1-11 to 0-8 winners.
"I was a sub that day," Fitzmaurice remembers. "Jerry Murphy's shot came off the crossbar. We thought it was a goal because we were sitting down in the dugout in Austin Stack Park. It was only afterwards that we heard it had come off the outside of the stanchion. We took it anyway."
Tipperary come again but this time they are a different proposition. They have taken the scalp of Cork for the first time in 72 years.
Current manager Liam Kearns also boasts a squad liberally sprinkled with players who have won Munster and All-Ireland titles at various grades, many of whom have a happy knack of beating Kerry at underage level.
Despite that pedigree, the two-point defeat of the Rebels came as a surprise given they had lost a number of leading figures to hurling, the US and even Australia.
"There's a couple gone, Colin O'Riordan, Stephen O'Brien, Paddy Codd, and there's a couple of their more experienced players that were the core of their team. But at the same time, they've some other very good young players that are coming through," warned Fitzmaurice.
"You've Quinlivan, Brian Fox - who was outstanding the last day - George Hannigan, you've Acheson, you've Conor Sweeney, you've McDonald at the back, their goalkeeper Evan Comerford is a good goalkeeper, he has good kickout."
And Fitzmaurice insists he was expecting that Tipp, with all their success at underage level, to step up and claim a big scalp at some stage.
"It's funny that sometimes when you have a very strong group - as they had last year and the last couple of years - that had a particular pedigree, when they come through then, maybe into a group that had been there already and the older group aren't quite getting the credit that they deserve, there can be a bit of a division within the panel," he said.
"Whereas to me, the team that played against Cork anyway looked very unified. There seemed to be a serious spirit in the group and sometimes when you lose a few big names, the sum of the parts becomes more important than relying on one or two big names.
"And the thing about when you have one or two big names, if you quieten those one or two big names, maybe the other fellas aren't used to having to do a bit more.
"Whereas this year I think that Tipperary, looking at it from the outside, they look to be very close knit, to have a serious spirit.
"They're obviously well coached, they have good players - some young players have been forced into action sooner than they would have been if the other players were around.
"Kevin O'Halloran was outstanding the last day, he was a fella that was really good for Tipperary both in general play and with a couple of excellent frees. So I think they're actually better this year. And that's not just me saying it because I'm sitting here and we're playing them in a Munster final."