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Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice will be without a host of first-team players for part of the League campaign

Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice will be without a host of first-team players for part of the League campaign

SPORTSFILE

Colm Cooper is expected to return in mid-March

Colm Cooper is expected to return in mid-March

SPORTSFILE

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Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice will be without a host of first-team players for part of the League campaign

Eamonn Fitzmaurice has yet to win a league match as Kerry manager in the month of February.

A footnote in the context of what was achieved last summer and into autumn but, back down at the low altitude of pre-season again, it's relevant in current terms.

Kerry open their league campaign against Mayo at home in eight days time, quickly followed by a trip north to Derry seven days later. The gust of an All-Ireland title should be spreading their sails wide.

But Fitzmaurice's first task at his opening press briefing of 2015 at the Kerry GAA headquarters yesterday was to take out a sheet of paper and read from it a list of players who won't be featuring next month.

It amounts to more than half their starting All-Ireland winning team from last September. Marc O Se (back), Aidan O'Mahony (ankle surgery), Donnachadh Walsh (groin), Peter Crowley (hamstring), Brian Kelly (ankle), James O'Donoghue (shoulder operation), Anthony Maher (work-tied) and Kieran Donaghy (club-tied) will play no part in either game, Fitzmaurice confirmed.

COMEBACK

Critically Fitzmaurice also ruled out Colm Cooper from any quicker than expected comeback, pencilling in his former captain for a mid-March return date that was always anticipated. Darran O'Sullivan also makes the list as his hamstrings trouble him once more while fringe players Paul O'Donoghue (knee) and Alan Fitzgerald are also ruled out.

"This time of year is always good to us in this regard," smiled Fitzmaurice on production of the list of a dozen players out of his reach.

There won't be a temptation to bring in any of Darragh O Se's U-21s and even the returning Tommy Walsh will be given time to be eased back in. An All-Ireland winning manager always has the luxury of those decisions.

Being without so many isn't ideal but is, in the manager's words "a double-edged sword."

"We have been down this road the last two years. It's a pain in the backside, especially as All-Ireland champions you are going out playing Mayo in your first game in Killarney. Because of the All-Ireland semi-final games they are going to be very anxious to set the score straight.

"From that point of view it's frustrating but the other side is, it's an opportunity for other players and particularly some of the lads that would have progressed a good bit last summer."

The challenge to defend and protect what they have naturally draws a comparison with the Kilkenny hurlers.

The addition of Cooper, Walsh, the ongoing development from the likes of Pa Kilkenny and Jonathan Lyne who contributed last year and the possible sprinkling of some of last year's better minors later in the year raises the levels of competition that Kerry football hasn't known for its senior squad for many years.

It is the base from which Fitzmaurice believes he can best mount a successful defence.

"You'd hope competition for places is the key. You look at Brian Cody's model with Kilkenny and that's what he's always done. How can those fellas keep coming back,y ear in, year out, winning 10 All-Irelands in his 16 years? So it can be done.

"I understand exactly what Bernard Brogan was saying recently (in relation to Dublin post-2011 and 2013), that there can be a slackening of desire. But the one thing that always gets players going is if he sees someone else wearing what he regards as his jersey. That can get the juices flowing again.

"If the lads who get that jersey early on perform and try and hold on to that jersey, that's the scenario you want."

Part of Fitzmaurice's success has been how willing he has been to ride out previous February storms on his watch, how he has been prepared to always put the player first before the result.

It leads him to the ongoing debate about the load and time consumption the current inter-county player faces, the perception that theirs is a joyless existence.

Fitzmaurice doesn't see it that way. "With regard to senior players, this thing about indentured slaves (Joe Brolly's reference), I don't think that's true.

"If you saw the townships in Cape Town, they are indentured slaves - I think with inter-county players, there are a lot of demands placed on them. It is basically professionals in an amateur game. They put a huge amount into it but they love it, they do it because they love it.

"If I have to ring a player to tell him he is not on a squad or not on a team, it's like telling him all is dead belonging to him.

"A joyless existence? I disagree with that completely. I saw an article where Declan O'Sullivan was listed as a fella that had to retire and move on. It was his knees that forced him to retire. He wanted to play on. He would have loved to have gone on and he wanted to stay part of the group.

"Aidan O'Mahony and Marc O Se want to play on because they love it so much so I think maybe in Kerry we're fortunate because the lads have had a bit of success."

Meanwhile new Kerry captain Kieran Donaghy says the role won't change him in anyway.

"I would be doing a fair bit of barking around the place anyway, so it's not going to change me that much," he said.

Donaghy admits being Kerry captain was "an unbelievable honour" because growing up a Kerry jersey always seemed so far away.

"I wasn't one of those talented fellas who was scoring 1-8 in county minor finals or anything. I was playing in a minor final when I was 17 and almost getting in the way at full-forward. So to go on and play senior football for Kerry was a huge achievement for me in my career. And obviously to go on and captain this great county is an unbelievable honour.

"I'm mad about Tommy. It's great to have him back. I'm mad about him as a fella and as a footballer.

"He's not in it for himself, he's in it for the team. And he's already shown us a bit of inspiration because he could have got another contract with another team and hung out around out there making money, but he wants to come home and give it a real go.

"He's shown that to us already inside in training with the way he has approached it. He'll be a great addition to us because he can play in a number of positions."

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