Tuesday 19 November 2019

Fitzmaurice was obvious choice for Kerry, now he faces some tough decisions

Eamonn Fitzmaurice
Eamonn Fitzmaurice

It wouldn't be entirely accurate to say that Kerry have taken another inevitable bow to what is loosely termed the 'modern' game and appointed a manager not yet out of his middle 30s.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice, handed a three-year term by the Kerry County Board on Monday night in succession to Jack O'Connor, is 36, and the latest addition to the more youthful ranks who now populate the community of inter-county GAA managers.

Jason Ryan, Justin McNulty, Maurice Horan and new Offaly manager Emmet McDonnell are all in their thirties, Pat Gilroy, Peter Canavan, Kieran McGeeney, Glenn Ryan, James Horan, Jim McGuinness, Kevin Walsh, James McCartan and Alan Mulholland haven't gone too far into their forties.

More and more county boards are recognising the ever-increasing speed of change in the dressing-room environment and see a need for a smaller generation gap if it's available to them. In Kerry's case, it was.

Fitzmaurice has become their youngest manager of modern times at least, but not by much. They have, quite memorably, been down this road before.

Mick O'Dwyer was 38 when Ger McKenna handed him the responsibility of providing a response to Cork's All-Ireland title in 1973 and their subsequent seven-point defeat of Kerry in the 1974 Munster final.

Like O'Dwyer, Fitzmaurice comes into the job on the back of involvement with the Kerry U-21 team, albeit one a little less successful.


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And like O'Dwyer he faces the prospect of having to make very hard calls on players he would consider his friends over the next couple of years. It is undoubtedly the least palatable part of what's ahead for him, but something that, he acknowledged yesterday, he is prepared for.

The expediency with which Kerry moved to fill the vacancy left by Jack O'Connor and the pathway they have cleared for a future managerial appointment --with Darragh O Se's succession to Fitzmaurice as U-21 manager -- represents a good couple of week's business for Kerry in the wake of their All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Donegal.

Options were thin on the ground but by installing Fitzmaurice and linking O Se, who was a selector to Fitzmaurice with this year's U-21 team, the dearth of future prospective candidates has been addressed for now. Like Dublin, the shape of things to come is much clearer.

At the very least it provides optics that suggest a county not casual about meeting the obvious challenges of keeping themselves at the forefront of football head on.

Fitzmaurice was the obvious choice, having served as a selector with O'Connor for two years, 2009-2010, and having come back in a coaching capacity after Donie Buckley's departure this year. His connections to the current squad are strong. Colm Cooper, Declan O'Sullivan, Marc and Tomas O Se, Kieran Donaghy, Darran O'Sullivan, Bryan Sheehan and Eoin Brosnan have all shared a dressing-room with him, while Paul Galvin is not only a former colleague at club and county level, but is also his brother-in-law.

The respect for the new man is genuine and strong, however, and it is inconceivable to think such an experienced group of players with strong opinions did not point the board in Fitzmaurice's direction, not that they would have needed directing on the issue anyway.

He was O'Connor's choice for sure and, in consultation, the outgoing boss strongly advised Fitzmaurice to bite the bullet ahead of what the new manager felt was his time. "Jack gave me a lot of very good advice and he was enthusiastic. He felt that I should definitely go for it. He felt that there was never a perfect time and he feels that I have the tools to do a decent job," he said yesterday.

Clearly the O'Connor endorsement and the favourable reception from the players gives this succession a 'boot room' feel and a continuity element to 2013. While recognising the inevitability of change, Fitzmaurice isn't going to vigorously pursue it.

In fact, he doesn't believe he will have to deal with any retirements over the next few months, including Tomas O Se, who is known to be strongly considering it, but ended the season as one of their most productive players.

"I'm going to have to make changes, of course, over the couple of years. I'll be involved, but a lot of those lads, they have a lot of mileage up on the clock. But all of them certainly are well capable, physically, of going on for another year or two, provided they have the appetite for it.

"I think we saw with Donegal last weekend, the level they're after taking the game to, so all those lads will be looking on and reflecting, but I'd be confident most, if not all of them, will certainly play on.

"Personally speaking, I still think that there's plenty left in the tank and we'll have to try and build on the players that are there and, like I said, get the balance right between bringing through some of the new young lads as well."

Fitzmaurice has been given time to put a back-room team together over the next six weeks, with Mike Sheehy, Diarmuid Murphy and possibly Seamus Moynihan among those being mentioned as selectors.

• Meath legend Graham Geraghty is set to team up with former Tipperary manager John Evans and former Royal selector Tom Keague in a bid to succeed Seamus McEnaney as the next manager of Meath.

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