'He brings different things that mere mortals like myself wouldn’t think of' - Fitzmaurice praises Fitzgerald influence
MAURICE Fitzgerald isn’t one for nostalgia.
The only memory of 1997 he cares to share is that “it was a good time in my life.”
You ask him about the drought ended that year by his legendary All-Ireland final performance and whether it’s applicable to the Mayo team Kerry face on Sunday and he shrugs.
“I would always have felt that we are so blessed in this county that there is so much talent coming through in any era that you just felt it would happen.”
Always, he’s eager to bring the conversation back around to the here and now.
Fitzgerald hasn’t turned up at Kerry’s pre All-Ireland semi-final press conference to tell war stories around a fire.
He’s present as a representative of the current team.
It’s not that the great man is shy. Far from it.
When he discusses his recent reunion with the Kerry senior football setup as a selector under Éamonn Fitzmaurice, his languid, cool exterior brims with energy.
“I was just delighted, surprised and thrilled,” he recalls upon receiving the invitation from Fitzmaurice at the end of last year to come aboard. Coming back to Killarney on summer evenings with all those young fellas, in many respects it is reminiscent to good times in my past.”
Nor is he part of the things-were-better-in-my-day brigade.
Maurice Fitz may have been the purest footballer from the purest part of the purest county in football but he doesn’t subscribe to the notion that the sport lost its magic through the tactical evolution it underwent between the latter parts of his storied career and now.
“The fundamentals of that haven’t (changed),” he reports.
“Okay there is an absolute physicality that has been brought in and the players are more powerful, they are stronger, their endurance is better.
“It goes hand in hand that the level of skills. And the skills that they are working on are the same as ever and more. They are very precise in what they do.”
The difference between his day and now?
“In many respects it’s the preparation,” he explains, “and the time that the players are putting into it and collectively, it’s much more intensive now as a group.
“And I think it probably eats into their personal time a bit more. The dynamics of all that.
“We would have had a lot more down-time 20 years ago and you would do your own thing a bit more and you wouldn’t be on the road as much. But with total commitment to the group, there is a bit more time involved.”
So why Maurice Fitz?
When Diarmuid Murphy stepped down as a selector at the end of last year after four years with Fitzmaurice and another two under Jack O’Connor, the Kerry boss got thinking.
“I needed someone who could fill big boots and Maurice was the man,” he explains.
“Obviously his forward’s brain is excellent for the lads, he’s a great communicator, he’s very good at getting points across, ideas across.
“Different things that mere mortals like myself wouldn’t think of and his personality, I’ve always said his personality is a huge thing. “That’s what he brings.
“But then,” Fitzmaurice goes on, “on the pitch he’ll help fellas with kicking, the free-takers, he’d have advice for the goalkeepers on what forwards don’t like.
“He’ll have advice for the backs on what forwards don’t like so, you know, you have to remember he’s stuck in school teams the whole time himself, he’s managed St Mary’s successfully so he’s a lot of experience and he brings that to the table so he’s a top man and he’s doing a great job.”
So he’s not here as some cultural icon If anything, he’s more chipper now that he was when the pressure of the entire county’s obsession rested on his broad shoulders.
“I’m poles apart from that person,” he announces.
“I’m very relaxed at the games actually, and I can enjoy the games, which I don’t know if you’re supposed to or not, but I do.”
And though he carries a very obvious gravitas, Fitzgerald knows his place in all this too.
“I can assure you, they don’t hardly listen to me,” he laughs.
“There’s a lot of arguing goes on, but then we do what we’re told at the end of it all, as you know.”
“All I’m obsessed with this year is being involved in our county and getting to where we need to go.
“Like every other county,” he adds, “we’d be on a bit of a mission to get as far along the line as we can.”