Fitzgerald plays down Cooper fears and insists quality still trumps physicality
MAURICE FITZGERALD never seemed to get too flustered playing football and it's a similar story when it comes to the direction the game has taken over the last few years.
His fellow countyman and heir as Kerry's marquee forward Colm Cooper suggested that physicality was taking emphasis over skill in the modern game, to the detriment of the football.
But for all the changes in tactics, defensive systems and conditioning, Fitzgerald insists football still comes down to the same set of core skills.
"Look, I think ultimately the team that has a good strike-force up front can win enough ball in the middle of the field and can defend right. I would like to think that a good scoring line getting a good supply of ball will be there or thereabouts," he said.
Perhaps, he suggests, the emphasis has changed. But there was still joy to be gleaned from Donegal's arm-wrestle with Down in the Ulster semi-final.
"You're always going to get different eras and styles but good players will always come through," said the Kerry legend.
"That's the beauty of our Association, the beauty of the game. We wait for that talent every year and somebody emerges from the pack every year.
"That's something that I enjoy about all of the games. You're always going to have exceptional talent coming through.
"Even if you look at Donegal (against Down), some fantastic scores were kicked and it was a joy to watch. Some people would concentrate on the negative aspect of the play but, as far as I could see, Colm McFadden kicked some tremendous scores, Michael Murphy kicked tremendous scores.
"There were some tremendous scores kicked off the ground, one from 45 or 50 metres late in the game.
"You'd have to say there's always going to be different aspects to the game. There was some great fielding as well in the middle of the pitch, high catches, so it is all there.
"Then you would have to admire how Down reinvented themselves in many ways against Donegal (from the Derry game) and put it up to them."
Interviews with Fitzgerald (below) are rare but he was in Dublin for the launch of a girls summer camp – hosted by the Michaela Harte Foundation – which takes place in St Louis Infant school in Rathmines from July 22 to 25.
At 43, Fitzgerald seems to be the man time forgot and it's no surprise to hear he's still active at club level with St Mary's, or "standing around" as he calls it.
Despite a dodgy topsy-turvy league campaign, he sees a Kerry side who are well prepared to overcome Cork in Sunday's Munster SFC final in Killarney.
"Every time you lose a few matches everybody gets excited to some degree, but ultimately you had an awful lot of experienced players that weren't playing at the time (in the league)," he said.
"It's about trying to get the balance. They're looking to get a blend there of experience and youth.
"I think there's also a period with a new manager, a bit of a reshuffle, that it takes its time to settle down. But I'm pretty sure that they have their formula, they have everything in place and I feel coming into (the final), they're in very, very good form."
Looking further ahead, Fitzgerald acknowledges that while the likes of Dublin, Donegal, Mayo and Tyrone are the front-runners, he expects Kerry to be in the shake-up for ultimate honours.
"We're certainly not too far off the pack. You'd have to say that Donegal, Dublin, Tyrone, clearly Mayo, there must be five, six teams there and I believe we're very much in the pack.
"Beyond the Munster final, I personally wouldn't be (looking). That's a game we'd like to win. Thereafter, we'll be challenging for the next stage. But a provincial title is quite important.
"I don't think there'll be anyone shouting about the All-Ireland at the minute, but down the road we'll be in the pack alright."