Saturday 24 March 2018

Eoin Liston: Fitzmaurice should stay and finish what he started at Kerry

The likes of Aidan O’Mahony and Marc Ó Sé have been great servants and owe nothing to Kerry football. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
The likes of Aidan O’Mahony and Marc Ó Sé have been great servants and owe nothing to Kerry football. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

Fortune favours the brave and despite throwing the kitchen sink at the Dubs, their philosophy of all-out attack once again bore fruit when it really mattered most and, regrettably, Kerry just couldn't live with them.

Did we get the match-ups right? We did. Did we have right tactics to trouble the Dubs? We definitely did. But at the end of the day they'll regret not pushing enough players forward to support the full-forward line and taking a leaf out of Jim Gavin's playbook.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice would love to have those closing few minutes back again because that's where we have come up short against this Dublin side time and time again. They put themselves in the winning position but just couldn't do enough to get over the line.

Paul Geaney's late withdrawal was a strange decision but that aside it was a monumental effort from players and management and they couldn't have done much more. Sometimes you just have to bow to a better team.

And when the game was in the melting pot, Dublin's six forwards coolly held their positions. Diarmuid Connolly was out at midfield, Ciarán Kilkenny was attacking from deep while Philly McMahon and James McCarthy were bombing forward so they had an array of attacking options.

Minus two All-Star defenders they still have the manpower and with their back-to-back bid hanging by a thread, they had at least 12 excellent kickers on the pitch, all capable of getting scores. Kerry don't have that luxury.

Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice

I don't think there'll be any mental scars when it comes to us and the Dubs however. It's just how good Dublin have been in the last quarter of nearly every recent game against Kerry; you have to stay with them until the final moments and then go for broke.

You've got to go bald-headed with it, you've got to gamble and that's my only regret. Maybe everyone should have had that licence to surge forward and support the fellas up front.

But what sets Dublin apart is the quality of their kickers. They can all kick and score, the defenders are as comfortable on the ball as their forwards. And it's wrong to just talk about Dublin's athleticism, you admire their conditioning but they have the skill to back it up.

They'd more attacks, they'd more shots and hit six more scores than us. Their movement up front, their support play, their composure was first-class; they were rattled to the core but they regrouped and re-energised.

After an 11-minute blitz which turned a five-point lead into a five-point half-time deficit, they were quickly out of the blocks and their dominance kicked in again. We just weren't able to put enough scores on the board and maintain our lead.

Half-time was a tonic for them and they never panicked. They're ultra confident in their own ability and their system. They've a settled side for many years now and they've gelled so well together that they're now getting even better with time.

We knew we had to come with something new, we knew we'd have to deliver a special performance and the one thing I thought would be in our favour was the desire to win but they matched it. That's phenomenal from a reigning champions, almost like Kilkenny in the hurling.

I went for a few drinks with some of the Kerry lads after and it was clear they were hurting deep inside. I've been there and know what it's like and I'm expecting a few retirements as some fellas went out on their shields on Sunday.

Kieran Donaghy of Kerry playing with his daughter Lola Rose at Croke Park. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

The likes of Aidan O'Mahony, Marc Ó Sé and Kieran Donaghy have been fantastic servants and if they do call time on their careers, they owe nothing to Kerry football or to football in general.

To be able to keep coming back year on year into the Colosseum takes special men and special players but the likes of Paul Murphy, Tadhg Morley and Brian Begley are just a few fresh faces that can help lead the next brigade.

They all left their own stamp on Kerry's efforts this year and that's encouraging. Combined with the successful minor teams coming through, there is a healthy conveyor belt to work from in future years.

And everyone would love Fitzmaurice to be the man at the helm, without a doubt. He's respected by all and has put a remarkable effort into Kerry. He will have learned so much from Sunday that it would be a shame to cast that side now.

A few of the marginal calls didn't go with us but there's no excuse for the behaviour of some Kerry fans. It's an emotional rollercoaster for fans and there's always a percentage of supporters that cannot handle it when it reaches boiling point.

Mayo will have watched intently to see if there are any chinks in Dublin's armour and I think we gave them some areas to target. They went after Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs at the end of the drawn semi-final last year to great success just as we did on Sunday and they will hope to make hay in this area.

Mayo must run at them more than we did and they have the players to do that. They have immense talent but it depends what team turns up. When they're at their best they're as good as anyone.

We only played in patches and we were with them, all-square after 72 minutes, so Mayo will take great solace from that. We asked the questions of Dublin and while it took time, they found the answers. Mayo must push the envelope even further, if that's possible.

Irish Independent

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