Confident Kildare are real threat, warns Fitzmaurice
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice believes there'll be no underestimating "confident" Kildare ahead of their All-Ireland quarter-final showdown.
The resurgent Lilies have rescued what looked set to be a dismal season through their qualifier run.
After suffering a second successive relegation that left some in the county calling for manager Jason Ryan to be removed, they have bounced back from their Leinster mauling at the hands of Dublin.
And after pulling apart a Cork side that had looked to have the Kingdom beaten in the drawn Munster final, Fitzmaurice is wary of the momentum they are bringing into Sunday's clash in Croke Park.
"They were a Division 1 side 15 months ago and, believe it or believe it not, looking at them last Saturday night they looked better than they were back then," Fitzmaurice warned.
"Sometimes in the league, if a few results and a few injuries go against you, it can be tough to get the bit of momentum back, but they have serious momentum now and when you have it like that fellas grow in confidence.
"I know that within the Kildare camp there is no fear and they are probably saying, 'Bring on Kerry'. They will be backing themselves and they are in a position where nobody is probably giving them a chance of winning the game but they will have a real go.
"A team who are in that kind of a situation, coming in after taking a big scalp, full of confidence, full of running, full of youth and then with kind of a fearlessness - that can be very dangerous as well."
Fitzmaurice travelled to Kingspan Breffni Park to watch Fermanagh beat Westmeath last Saturday night, while his assistant Cian O'Neill was in Semple Stadium to watch Kildare turn over Cork. And having watched the match back, Fitzmaurice singled out the Kildare midfield for special praise.
"They did way better on Cork's kick-outs than we did in the two games, they were very hungry on breaking ball and then you had the likes of Pádraig O'Neill and Morgan O'Flaherty helping them out as well - they were very effective.
"Then you had the like of Niall Kelly up front who was outstanding and experienced players like Alan Smith making lots of unselfish runs and Eamonn Callaghan did the same They have a blend of experience and youth but what I was impressed with most was the pace, they played with serious pace. A lot of it was down to their midfield dominance and yeah it's going to be a big challenge for us."
The Kerry boss believes a return to Croke Park will bring out the best in his players as the business end of the season comes into view.
"Of course, we have to improve again. I was way happier with our application the second day. It was far from the perfect performance, it was a tough night for football. The attitude was there; the ingredients were there. There was a lot of good stuff even if we weren't perfect.
"These quarter-final games the last couple of years we've dipped a bit, so I'm hoping this year that we will kick on. And we'll need to kick on.
"Croke Park often brings the best out of the lads so, hopefully it will be the same."