'There was an orchestrated campaign against Lee Keegan' - Fitzmaurice fuming over 'lack of balance'
Eamonn Fitzmaurice has blasted the "complete lack of balance" regarding Kerry's physical approach against Dublin in Tralee two weeks ago while also claiming that one of his own players was choked in their All-Ireland semi-final clash last year.
Fitzmaurice usually keeps his counsel but ahead of the sides' renewal of acquaintances in Sunday's Division 1 FL final, the Kerry boss felt implored to set the record straight on the Kingdom's style of play, as well as Dublin's, ahead of another titanic clash between football's heavyweights.
Former Dublin star Paul Curran recently stated that Kerry "should be ashamed of themselves" for their tactics in the feisty draw, while defender Philly McMahon made comparisons with Mayo's forceful approach in last year's All-Ireland final but Fitzmaurice rebuked both theories before outlining examples of Dublin stretching the rules and pleading for "a level playing field" this weekend.
"Normally I kick for touch with those kinds of things because I don't believe in mind games. There is a game of football to be played and you trust the referee to get it right. But I do find it a bit worrying to be honest that there is a narrative out there at the moment and I don't think it's balanced at all," Fitzmaurice said.
"I think that the Dublin team (and I think it's important that this goes in that I am saying this) are a serious team that we have the utmost respect for. They are a fantastic footballing team, an attacking footballing team with brilliant players and with an outstanding manager. But make no mistake about it they have a hard edge about them and a seriously hard edge.
"Any team that wins as much as they do, if you go back to the Kerry team of the noughties, the Tyrone team of the noughties, the Kilkenny team that won four in a row, they all had a hard edge about them and Dublin have. Going back to the 2011 All-Ireland final, Declan O'Sullivan was taken out of it.
"Going back to the 2013 final (against Mayo) when they were down a man for the last five minutes (due to Rory O'Carroll's concussion and Eoghan O'Gara's injury) and they basically had to tactically foul to see it out. Going back to the end of the All-Ireland semi-final last year when one our players was wrestled to the ground and basically choked.
"So they have a hard edge but so have we. I have never tried to paint us whiter than white. But what I find annoying at the moment ..."
"And the reason I felt that I had to respond was out of my duty to the players that we are going in to the weekend on a level playing pitch. My worry was that it was developing into a situation like the All-Ireland final replay last year where there was an orchestrated campaign against Lee Keegan that was effective for the replay.
"So normally I would not open my mouth about things like that but I feel out of my duty to the players I had to address it. I had to say that there is a complete lack of balance, even within our own county, there is a lack of balance and I just think it's unfair on our players."
Fitzmaurice acknowledges that some of the instances in the first half of their Tralee tie were "silly" but he expects a similar "physical edge" in Croke Park this weekend while he also paid a glowing tribute to Colm 'Gooch' Cooper, "a genius", on his inter-county retirement.
"He had a confidence in his own ability. He loved the big days and loved performing on the big days. And more often than not, he did. He knew how to play the game. Regardless of the era, he would always have shone."