Friday 18 January 2019

Pat Spillane: Eamonn Fitzmaurice just frozen in time as he refuses to let it go with attack

Read Pat Spillane every week in The Sunday World

Pat Spillane (inset) has responded to criticism from Eamonn Fitzmaurice
Pat Spillane (inset) has responded to criticism from Eamonn Fitzmaurice

Pat Spillane

I celebrated my 63rd birthday last Saturday week. Once I switched on my phone that morning, text messages started to arrive and I assumed they were birthday greetings.

After reading the first couple of messages I was confused. “How do you manage to do your hair Donald?” and “I thought you  were in Buenos Aires at the G20 summit” were just a couple of them.

It took me a couple of minutes to figure out what the piss-take was here. It was a result of former Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice comparing me to the American president in an interview in the Irish Examiner that morning.

Wow, that’s a new one, I must give credit to Eamonn – I’ve been called lots of things before, but never Donald Trump.

It’s gas really that the last two Kerry managers – Jack O’Connor and Eamonn – both gave lengthy interviews to The Examiner in which yours truly was the main focus of their ire.

Why me? Am I anti-Kerry? No. Have I ever given the two any over-the-top, personal criticism? Absolutely not. Any suggestion that I have is pure horsesh**e.

I have given many outspoken opinions in my time, but they are always backed up by evidence.

Having a go at me is a handy way to generate a few jokes, but more importantly, in a bland interview a cut off me will generate a bit of controversy.

Being outspoken is a double-edged sword for me. Criticise a player or team outside of the Kingdom and I am knocked for donning my county colours and driving a Kerry agenda.

It happened last year, when Joe Brolly and Dessie Dolan threw me under a bus for my comments on the Diarmuid Connolly incident.

The claim was that I was trying to get a good player on an opposing team suspended to give Kerry a better chance of winning the All-Ireland. They were assumptions based on no proof at all, while Des Cahill sat idly by.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. My comments on the Connolly controversy were based on the rule book, evidence and hard facts that no-one could argue with.

It is the opposite when I talk about a Kerry team, player or manager.

Criticism, even though constructive, sees me branded as a traitor to the county.

As one shrewd judge of Kerry football said to me one day: “Of course you were right in what you said, but we would have much preferred if either Joe Brolly or Colm O’Rourke had said it and not you.”

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Eamonn noted in the interview that I had a good few pops at him while he was manager. You must be joking! During the course of six years in charge of the Kingdom, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I criticised Eamonn or his management team.

As I recovered from the Trump jibes, I noted with a wry smile that the heading over Eamonn’s article was ‘Without a Backward Glance’.

 Now, I’m long enough around the media game to know that neither the interviewer nor the subject writes the headline over an article, that’s done by a sub-editor in the office.

But Lord, the whole article is about looking back, with Eamonn explaining away defeat after defeat. And what’s that saying? When you’re explaining, you’re losing.

So permit me this morning to remind readers for a final time of what I said about Eamonn, verbally on The Sunday Game, and in print in the Sunday World, when he stepped down in August.

I described him as an honourable man to whom football history will be kind and I listed all his many achievements as Kerry player and manager.

 I also mentioned that many Kerry supporters, far too many in my mind, are over the top in their criticism.

It’s either win the All-Ireland or bust down here and I just recall the famous words of my great friend Páidí Ó Sé. It’s wrong, but it is the reality in Kerry.

What I did point out, in a critical manner, was what I believe to be the five reasons Kerry have failed to win any of the last four All-Irelands – with most of the reasons coming straight back to Eamonn’s feet.

Selective

Of course it did not help Eamonn that the same county won those four All-Irelands.

Every lover of the Green and Gold is hurting about that; God help Peter Keane next September if Dublin make it the long sought-after five-on-the-spin of Sam Maguires.

For those with selective memory, or hearing, I will outline my idea of flaws in Eamonn’s style of management again for a final time this morning...

1. No kick-out strategy was ever developed between 2015 and Eamonn’s departure. Indeed, for the first three of those years, Kerry had not got a settled goalkeeper to do the kicking.

2. Kerry had no defensive plan. Now, I’m not advocating defensive football, I’m advocating a defensive plan, that is something very different and something every All-Ireland contender, bar Kerry, has.

Two examples stand out: Trying to install a sweeper system in the week between the drawn and replayed 2017 All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo; and asking Mark Griffin, the least suited of the Kerry backs to the task, to man-mark Monaghan’s Conor McManus in Clones last July. Madness!

3. Having an attacking game plan that varied from game to game. In Munster, which the Kingdom won every year Eamonn was manager, Kerry would play front-foot football in the old Kerry way.

Yes, the opposition would not have been the best in the province, but if you are not going to play that way against the big boys, why not practice what you will play?

4. Weird substitutions. I’ve still to meet another Kerryman who agrees with Eamonn that taking the then Footballer of the Year, James O’Donoghue, off in the 2015 All-Ireland final was a good idea. Nor have I met many who can understand why he replaced David Moran with Paul Galvin in the same game.

And as for taking off star forward Paul Geaney and replacing him with a defender, Marc Ó Sé, in the closing minutes of the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin when Kerry needed scores? Words fail me.

5. Now this one is a bit more subjective and I can certainly understand the concept of loyalty. Dublin beat Kerry by 0-12 to 0-9 in the All-Ireland final of 2015. Kerry people cling to the notion that they could have pulled a win out of the bag in that game if Killian Young had taken his late goal chance.

Yet the pure mule truth is that Dublin hammered us that day everywhere bar the scoreboard. There and then the rebuilding should have started, with the products of the first two of the five All-Ireland winning minor teams.

Players with whom Eamonn had won the 2014 All-Ireland, but who were getting older and slower, were not up to the challenge of beating Dublin in 2016 or Mayo in 2017. In those two years Kerry fell further and further away.

Note instead how Dubs boss Jim Gavin dropped three multi All-Ireland medallists over the last two summers to make way for Con O’Callaghan, Brian Howard and Eoin Murchan.

As a result of that failure, new Kerry boss Peter Keane now has to start from scratch for 2019, when the rebuilding, in my opinion, ought to be well advanced.

So there’s five criticisms of Eamonn based on things he did with the team and with players, criticisms shared by many, many Kerry fans. I am not alone.

As a fellow teacher, Eamonn knows that one of the qualities we try to instil in students is never to be judgemental – particularly of those we’ve never met.

Eamonn says in his article that I have a huge ego, and that he wouldn’t have me within a million miles of managing any Kerry team. He’s entitled to that opinion, but how does he know I’ve a huge ego, as, believe it or not, I’ve never met the man in my life.

Tears

Like Eamonn, I have given blood and sweat to Kerry football. We’ve both probably given tears too.

Here’s a little bit of advice for Eamonn: After a loss, while it is important to grieve, and to have proper rehabilitation, there comes a time when you have to let go and move on.

So the next time Eamonn gives an interview, I’d love it if he talked about the future of Kerry football, instead of throwing out cheap words that don’t reflect well on him.

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