Tuesday 20 March 2018

Reeling in the years brings prince of Kerry attackers back to 'happy place'

Maurice Fitzgerald delighted to 'tap back' into inter-county game as a Kerry selector

Kerry selector Maurice Fitzgerald during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Kerry and Galway at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Kerry selector Maurice Fitzgerald during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Kerry and Galway at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

There was a reminder on eir Sport during the week of the sheer brilliance of Maurice Fitzgerald's equaliser from that sideline in Thurles to earn Kerry a replay in the 2001 All-Ireland quarter-final.

Technically, it was a flawless kick, swinging from left to right with a delicate slice, so precisely measured to propel it that bit quicker as it began to spin towards the goals.

He had the voice of then Dublin manager Tommy Carr in his ear too in an attempt to ratchet up the pressure. But the real pressure stemmed from the previous 10 minutes during which a commanding eight-point lead had been eroded, chiefly by two Dublin goals. Kerry had been in freefall. Maurice Fitz extended his hand and hauled them to safety. He did it in the most pressing of circumstances.

It was his third last appearance in a Kerry shirt. They won the replay but lost a subsequent All-Ireland semi-final to Meath. And then he was gone. There has been no media work and scarcely an interview since. He remained an ardent supporter and continued to deliver a sterling service to South Kerry and St Mary's Cahirciveen.

But you couldn't see the Kerry team connection being rewired again. From a distance, it just didn't look his place. Those that know him best, however, who appreciate the steel and the mind, always suspected different.

And when he guided St Mary's to last year's All-Ireland intermediate club title those qualities were embellished.

Thus, the invitation to join him from Eamonn Fitzmaurice was accepted quickly and Maurice (right) was happy to transport himself back to "a happy place".

"You don't need to think about this scenario. I was just delighted, surprised and thrilled (to be asked). It seems to be a return to a happy place. Coming back to Killarney on summer evenings with all those young fellas, in many respects it is reminiscent to good times in my past."

Those "good times" weren't always so good. He was a Kerry footballer through some of the county's leanest times, joining in 1988 and making an immediate impact but having to wait until 1997 to win an All-Ireland title.

Twenty years on from his landmark All-Ireland final contribution that remains above anything in the modern era, Mayo are back on his horizon but the relevance of that is immaterial to him.

"Anything from the past, they're just happy memories," he recalls. "It's boxed away. It was a good time to be involved. Now it's all about two teams that are really wanting the same thing. Mayo have had an exceptional journey coming into this.

"To go through what they have gone through in the back door has been quite an incredible achievement, very courageous, very determined. That can bring a great strength within a group."

In the 20 years since the 48-year-old has seen many changes but nothing strikes now, from being on the inside, as much as the "absolute" commitment that everyone gives.

"Sometimes you forget when you become a supporter, you look down on any given Sunday you're giving out about this, that and the other, you do forget the absolute commitment that they give. It's a lifestyle. It's not two or three days a week training, it's a total commitment to their trade. Growing up when you're in that circle you don't feel it's a sacrifice even though people use that word.

"If you love it the way these guys do it become a very natural lifestyle choice. It's one of the things that I am glad that I have tapped back into. You get a full appreciation of what is put in."

Success with St Mary's "whetted the appetite" he admits and as a member of the backroom he's more relaxed about a build-up to a big game than he once was as a player.

"I'm poles apart from that person. Not saying I would have been right or wrong then but with the physical geography of the county, I'm an hour away from Killarney and a lot of it would be just trying to have yourself ready for the energy of what is a huge weekend.

"So a lot of it would have been the physicality of the drive up and down and knocking around spending time. But now I'm totally relaxed. I enjoy every part of it now."

Beating Dublin in the league final and ending their 36-match unbeaten run wasn't as significant for Fitzgerald as the impact of a national title again.

"A national title is something we'd be very, very proud of in Kerry. Okay, it was Dublin and you can think that there's this obsession. But really, for me anyway, I'd want to be part of a group that was winning a national title. That would have been the obsession."

Irish Independent

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