Fitzmaurice targets last-four spot for Kingdom
AFTER escaping relegation from the top flight on score difference last year, Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice has targeted a league semi-final spot this time around.
The Kingdom lost their opening four games of the league in 2013 and needed a late score from Dublin's Paul Mannion against Donegal to keep them in the top flight in a dramatic final round of action.
Kerry get their campaign under way against the Dubs on Saturday night and with a 10-week break between their final league match and opening game of the championship, Fitzmaurice outlined the importance of extending their interest to the last four.
"If you get to eight points, you have a good chance of making the league semi-finals and that would definitely be our ambition to at least get to a league semi-final," he said.
"In ideal world, we would like to have a league final, too, because we have one less championship game this year, we don't start until June, and you would like to maximise the league with extra games.
"But if you lose your first two or three games, the next thing is that it's a backs-to-the wall scenario again and then you are happy to stay in Division 1. It will depend how we get on early, but we would like to at least reach the league semi-finals."
The Kingdom will afford Dublin the customary guard of honour for All-Ireland champions in Croke Park, but Fitzmaurice feels the Dubs will face a side who have developed physically over the last 12 months.
"I think we are a good bit ahead of where we were last year physically, because at this time last year, I think the volume of training took the lads a bit of getting used to.
"The strength and conditioning sessions they were doing, added to the pitch sessions, were longer than what they had been accustomed to. I just think that might have been reflected in some of the performances, but this year, the familiarity is there and their bodies are a year further down the line."
The success of experimenting with Colm Cooper at centre-forward last year has prompted Fitzmaurice to deploy regular wing-forward Paul Galvin at centre-back.
The Kingdom boss also hinted that, with Marc ó Sé not expected to feature and brother Tomás now retired, he could continue to use Galvin's experience in defence.
"Last year, we tried out Kieran Donaghy in the league at wing-forward and we played him at midfield. We played Colm on the '40' last year and we played Mikey Geaney at wing-back in the McGrath Cup.
"It's just experimenting with things. it's giving Paul something new to look forward to at the moment. But no more so than with Colm when he came out last year to the '40,' but we could shift him into the inside line whenever we wanted to. It's going to be the same with Paul.
"If we feel it's not working for him or for the team, it will be very easy for us to put Paul back up into the half- forward line. But, at the moment, playing Paul in the half-back line is something we are looking at and we will see where the experiment takes us."