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Eamonn Fitzmaurice: 'They made me so excited - I felt like a player again'

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Kerry players pose for a 'selfie' after their victory over Donegal. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Kerry players pose for a 'selfie' after their victory over Donegal. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Kerry players pose for a 'selfie' after their victory over Donegal. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

EAMONN Fitzmaurice is a notoriously private man. For over 72 minutes he guarded his cards yesterday, picking and dropping them with the guile and poker-face of a Las Vegas pro.

But after Kerry's 37th senior title the quiet-spoken school-teacher could lay them on the table with a smile.

His team had made him feel like a player again this year, he confessed, this unfancied mix of veterans and wide-eyed rookies that everyone wrote off when they were trounced by Cork in the last round of the league.

This All-Ireland was "every bit as special" as any of the three he had won on the field or as a selector in 2009.

"I felt like a player this summer," Fitzmaurice confessed. "I promised myself I wouldn't but I became so obsessed and I was so excited going into training every night. That's down to the lads, the players and down to the management team around me.

"They're a special group of lads," he stressed. "Very focused and brilliant to train. The spirit in the group was absolutely incredible, driven by the likes of Declan O'Sullivan, who wasn't starting games.

"When you have a selfless man like that and Colm (Cooper, injured all year) driving the spirit in the group and showing that there's no ego, no selfishness, it's a special place to be."

As his players emerged they gave some insight into how meticulously he had prepared them.

The young assassin responsible for banners like 'In JOD we trust' was kept scoreless for the first time this summer, yet James O'Donoghue was delighted with his new decoy role.

Their first goal, after 50 seconds was "fairytale stuff," the Killarney Legion star grinned.

"It was something we had worked on with Paul (Geaney) inside. It was actually Kieran Donaghy's idea to put him in there for the first couple of balls up high and we pulled out."

EVENTFUL

The reborn 'Star', whose comeback in the last three games has somehow out-Disneyed everything else in his eventful life, revealed how he'd shot the breeze with a match official before pouncing on Paul Durcan's fluffed kick-out.

"I said to the umpire about three or four minutes before that whoever gets the goal will win it," Donaghy revealed.

"It felt like it was seven-seven for about three hours!" he groaned. "I thought it was never going to get off seven-seven. Getting off that scoreline was the big thing and certainly for us to have the momentum was big."

Did you see this fairytale ending for yourself, mid-summer, Donaghy was asked?

"No, I didn't and I'd be a fool to think it and anybody else would have been too," he countered.

But Donaghy, like Fitzmaurice, sensed this team, if not himself, could confound all expectations.

"I did, I certainly did, which made me even more hungry to try and get back," he confessed. "Look I'm only minding the jersey, I always say that, until the next Kerry number 14 comes along. I'm just privileged and honoured to be a part of it."

Fitzmaurice revealed that, having failed to start against Galway, Donaghy returned to training two days late "like a man on a mission."

He also explained that, after their heroic semi-final defeat of Mayo down in Limerick, when all the management could think was to get up the road next day to see Donegal play Dublin, the players were driving it on.

"Kieran O'Leary was over to me eating the grub. My brain was fried, I wasn't capable of thinking of much," Fitzmaurice confessed.

"He was over and wanted to know if we could have the pool organised in the Brehon the next day in Killarney? Could we have food organised for one o'clock? The lads were going to go to the pool on their own, have dinner together and then watch the other semi-final together. I think they got there quicker than I did!" he marvelled. "A lot comes from them, that's a great sign of a team."

Such an extraordinary turnaround from that 10-point loss to Cork in Tralee was extra-special, they all agreed.

That game didn't so much dampen expectation as "throw a gallon of water on it," Fitzmaurice admitted.

"We went to Portugal on the Thursday after it, were over there on the Easter weekend and our season changed there.

"We were too open, simple as," he admitted. "You're not going to win an All-Ireland if you're conceding scores like that. There's a saying in American sports that 'good forwards or offence wins you games, but good defence wins you championships'. We knew we were going to have to start at the back and be much more solid, but at the same time stay loyal to Kerry football."

They had talked about goals beforehand because they figured if Donegal didn't get some they would struggle to score.

He also instructed them to keep shooting from distance, in a bid to draw out the blanket defence.

"If we got them, brilliant, and if we missed it wasn't going to bother us, we wouldn't let it show in body language because, as Donegal did against Dublin - they will give you shots from outside."

"With Barry John (Keane) we wanted to get a bit of energy in there, with Declan (O'Sullivan) we wanted to get a warrior in there, with Bryan Sheehan we wanted to get a place-kicker in and with (Shane) Enright we wanted to mark McBrearty.

Fitzmaurice could afford a wry smile when asked about infamous 'tree-spy', quipping: "It could have been a fella just doing it off his own bat. Last Tuesday night was probably a bit late!"

He said he also laughed at the notion that Michael Murphy's roving role would exhaust veteran Aidan O'Mahony (34).

"The older lads, like himself and Marc O Se, are in incredible shape. We have fitness tests and Aidan is always one of the last standing. Whether that's out of thickness, like stubborness, or legs or whatever!" he laughed.

He talked of the dedication of young and old and believes it will continue. Declan O'Sullivan's wife was due to give birth yesterday and they've christened him 'Paul McGrath' because his knees needed draining so much this year.

"Absolutely immense," Fitzmaurice commented. "He'll have to get surgery to sort them out but after that I don't see any reason why anyone should be moving on."

Kerry Ratings - Colm Keys

Brian Kelly - 7

Didn't bring much risk to his kick-out strategy but that might have been the best tactic. Closed angle on Darach O'Connor well in first half. Had better cover than his opposite number.

Marc O Se - 8

Quite a response since being dropped for the Limerick game, he established control against Colm McFadden early on and played across the line with great vigilance.

Aidan O'Mahony - 7

Faced with the challenge and might of Michael Murphy, O'Mahony was never exposed and that was the measure of one of Kerry's most experienced players.

Fionn Fitzgerald - 6

Sacrificed to allow Shane Enright in to track Paddy McBrearty but Fitzgerald had handled Darach O'Connor with ease in opening 27 minutes and made good decisions.

Paul Murphy - 8

Has emerged as one of Kerry's summer heroes and embellished this with a really competent display that included an inspiring second-half point to draw Kerry level.

Peter Crowley - 8

His block on David Walsh in the last quarter, where he came from five metres off the execute it, had some uplighting effect. Snaffled up breaks all day. One of Kerry's big successes.

Killian Young - 7

Didn't have the best of form coming into this game but carried impressively all day and really grew into the game as part of a dominant Kerry half-back line. Fouled for late free.

Anthony Maher - 7

Aggression he has brought to his game really counted. Didn't back away from any confrontation. When Neil Gallagher was dominating, it was Maher who provided most resistance.

David Moran - 7

Never reached the heights of either Mayo game. Struggled early on, allowing one poor Durcan kick-out to slip through his hands. But he gathered himself well after that.

Stephen O'Brien - 5

Made some penetrating runs and put the early ball in for Geaney's goal. But didn't protect possession well. Some of his best work was defensive and he clocked up fouls quickly.

Johnny Buckley - 7

Has had quite a season and provided great presence throughout to supplement Maher and Moran at midfield. There was hardly a more important score than his long-range point,

Donnchadh Walsh - 6

The usual plaudits for Walsh: how hard he worked, how selfless he was and how he put his body on the line. He spread himself thin and was ready to foul when needed.

Paul Geaney - 7

Scored one of the quickest ever final goals and should have had another when he blazed over. An unlikely aerial target early on, he always threatened but still shot four wides.

Kieran Donaghy - 8

Kerry's season turned with his introduction against Mayo and his soaring confidence manifested here. Vital interception for a vital goal. Always a threat to Donegal's last line.

James O'Donoghue - 6

The 'footballer of the year' in waiting had to go deep to get space away from Neil McGee and was never a threat like he had been in matches all summer. Still worked very hard.

Substitutes

Michael Geaney (6) exploited some gaps, Shane Enright (6) got tighter to McBrearty, Barry John Keane (6) converted two frees, Declan O'Sullivan (6) took up deep positions but was peripheral, Bryan Sheehan nailed a 47-metre free late on, while Kieran O'Leary was an even later addition.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice - 10

Jack O'Connor once said he wouldn't get away with playing football 'like that down here'. But Fitzmaurice has and Kerry have one of their best final triumphs in the circumstances. Holding their shape was the key, targeting Paul Geaney aerially and sacrificing James O'Donoghue to a deeper role also worked.

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