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'Fitzmaurice needs something different to beat Donegal'

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Mike Frank Russell watches on as children from O'Connell CBS Primary School in Dublin go through their paces at the launch of PE Ceim ar Aghaidh

Mike Frank Russell watches on as children from O'Connell CBS Primary School in Dublin go through their paces at the launch of PE Ceim ar Aghaidh

SPORTSFILE

Mike Frank Russell watches on as children from O'Connell CBS Primary School in Dublin go through their paces at the launch of PE Ceim ar Aghaidh

IT'S 20 years since Mike Frank Russell and Eamonn Fitzmaurice formed part of the last Kerry minor team to win an All-Ireland title at the U-18 grade for the Kingdom.

That side are coming together for a reunion on the Saturday night before the Kerry's clash with Donegal in the 2014 senior and minor deciders.

"It's hard to believe that a county with Kerry's success has waited that long to win a minor," five-time All-Ireland winner Russell says.

Fitzmaurice might have too much on his mind to attend that function but Russell has watched on as his former team-mate has earned an unexpected September trip to Croke Park.

"At the start of the year you were thinking he's run into fierce hard luck with the injuries and retirements but I think it's helped them.

"Against Cork, Kerry were written off, so I think Kerry have been able to work away quietly in the background with the younger players. Even the semi-final against Mayo, Kerry were expected to be beaten and all of a sudden they're in the final.

"I think there was no pressure on them this year and it's helped them, and you have to credit Eamonn Fitzmaurice for that as well.

"It gave other fellas a chance to step up to the plate, the likes of David Moran, who had been out injured. Paul Geaney and these lads, Michael Geaney too."

Russell is sure that the puzzle Jim McGuinness will present will be like nothing Kerry have experienced so far this year. And he insists that they'll need to bring a totally new approach to counteract that.

"Eamonn Fitzmaurice will have to come up with something a bit different.

"I was speaking to a well-known Donegal player during the week. If you look at the Dublin team they had similarly good forwards like Kerry and they were six points behind and the blanket still didn't come out.

"They have total trust in it. You would imagine six points down Donegal would have to come out and chase it. But they didn't and they're not going to budge for Kerry either.

"Are Kerry going to kick over it or are Kerry going to try to keep Kieran Donaghy inside? It's something that Eamonn Fitzmaurice will have to think about.

"He might have to try something completely different, like bringing James O'Donoghue out to the half-forward line. But he'll have to try something different to break them down. It's going to be very tough because I think it's changed the whole picture. A lot of people were expecting a Kerry-Dublin shoot-out."

Russell got to know McGuinness years ago when they teamed up to help a star-studded IT Tralee team to Sigerson Cup success away back in 1998.

Even in a dressing room that contained the likes of Seamus Moynihan, Mark Reilly, Padraic Joyce and Michael Donnellan, McGuinness had something about him. Back then, the long black hair had people 'fooled', Russell suggests.

"He was a good man to train. You hear about these stories about the hard training sessions they have in Donegal so I'm not surprised.

"He commanded respect and was a good speaker. He came across to me as a man who thought a lot about the game."

"Donegal remind me a lot of Tyrone, I suppose, in 2003. People were maybe saying it wasn't good football but they did enough to get over the line.

"But the finals they won in '05 and '08. Tyrone added an attacking dimension to it and Donegal look the same, they've brought an attacking style that maybe people weren't used to.

"So they're not, as some people might say, a 'one-trick pony'."

Russell was in Dublin to help promote 'Ceim ar Aghaidh', a new GAA coaching resource aimed at helping primary school teachers.

And after a trip down memory lane on Saturday week with the minors of 1994, he expects Kerry to reclaim Sam Maguire the following afternoon, but only after a monstrous battle.

"It will be very tactical, I think it will come down to the two managers," he says "And just maybe Kerry's bench might be a little bit better."

Irish Independent