Wednesday 18 September 2019

Fitzgerald keen for new-look Kingdom to set the bar higher

Fionn Fitzgerald knows it’s important for Kerry to hit the ground running against Clare on Sunday. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Fionn Fitzgerald knows it’s important for Kerry to hit the ground running against Clare on Sunday. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Fionn Fitzgerald insists Kerry haven't shown the best of themselves over the past few seasons. Last year they lost out in an All-Ireland semi-final replay to Mayo while 2016 saw them go out to Dublin in the last four.

They also lost narrowly to the Dubs in the 2015 All-Ireland decider. Kerry have been close, but close doesn't cut it as far as Fitzgerald is concerned.

"I would think so yeah, definitely," he replied when asked if the Kingdom have under-delivered of late. "Going on last year anyway, I don't think you saw what Kerry is about.

"We didn't feel like we played to the level that we could play to. And I think that we are definitely better than what we would have churned out."

Kerry have set about the process of fusing the old guard with the new order after the influx of exciting young talent to Eamonn Fitzmaurice's squad.

To some extent, they will have to do that on the hoof as their Championship opener against Clare on Sunday in the Munster SFC semi-final in Killarney comes into view.


Kerry were without 17 players for the early part of the year, forcing Fitzmaurice to give youth its fling. As Paul Geaney put it when he returned to training and saw a host of new faces: "It was like an U-23 squad."

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By and large, the young players gave good accounts of themselves. David Clifford, who is a student of Fitzgerald's in IT Tralee, made his debut after a stellar minor career.

"He's a very mature guy, he has a good handle on himself and he knows what he is at, so it's good," said Fitzgerald. "There was [excitement] at the start now, but David, he is a level-headed guy.

"He wants to play with Kerry. He is enjoying playing with Kerry. And he works hard. I think a lot of people maybe don't realise that."

Others like Sean O'Shea caught the eye while Jason Foley and Micheál Burns featured prominently as Kerry used a staggering 37 different players in their Division One campaign - three more than League winners Dublin and eight more than runners-up Galway.

With that much change and experimentation, perhaps the up-and-down nature of Kerry's performances was inevitable.

"In the League you try a lot of things. Some things work, some didn't work and I suppose we can revisit it," he added. "We've a bit of context now for the Championship. If we went out and were just very conservative, then maybe you don't learn as much.

"I think we're relatively happy where we're at. I won't say we're very happy but we definitely learned from the League. I think individually and collectively as a team, we know an awful lot more about ourselves now."

And while Kerry had an unfamiliar look to them earlier this year, the old guard slowly returned.

Kieran Donaghy is back from the basketball court. David Moran made his return in the latter stages of the League, James O'Donoghue is over his latest injury trouble along with Darran O'Sullivan and Kilian Young.

It all sounds positive but vast swathes of the Kerry squad have yet to play together. The problem for Kerry manager Fitzmaurice is fitting all those pieces of the jigsaw together.

But Fitzgerald is confident the new faces can hit the gournd running in the Championship. "When I look at the dressing-room I went into, you had multiple All-Ireland winners, that was the kind of dressing-room I entered and it was a big learning experience," he recalled.

"It took maybe a longer period of time to get stuck in and really put your own stamp on it. The young guys that have come in, I'm really impressed by their hunger.

"They have had nice success at underage and they want to get on the team and they want to succeed - and that's good for us."

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