Time's up for Fitzmaurice as Kerry fail to progress
All-Ireland SFC 'Super 8s': Kerry 3-25 Kildare 2-16
The search has begun for a candidate willing to shoulder the burden of managing Kerry, with Eamonn Fitzmaurice relieving himself of the cross after a comfortable but futile win in Killarney on Saturday evening.
In his parting words there was evidence that criticism had taken its toll. He leaves with one All-Ireland, a National League title and six years of unbroken dominance in Munster.
In most counties that would amount to an abundance of riches but Kerry isn't like most counties. This was the first time they failed to reach the All-Ireland semi-finals in Fitzmaurice's time in charge.
Having lost to Galway and been extremely fortunate to draw in Clones, they were relying on a favourable result in Salthill, but Monaghan's clear-cut victory ruled out a Kerry presence in the semi-finals next weekend.
The match had plenty of talking points and provided considerable entertainment given already-doomed Kildare's reduced motives. But the Fitzmaurice decision, with two years left to run on his term, dominated post-match reflections. "I was telling players I have been in the job for six years. I've given it everything," he said.
"I think there is very good foundations there for the future. A change of voice and a change of direction will be good. I also think by taking me out of the equation, it can remove some of the over-the-top negativity that was coming at the team, which I feel was unfair."
Fitzmaurice has been criticised for being overly cautious in selection, and relying excessively on older players, but this year saw him blood seven newcomers in the championship. One of those, David Clifford, was immense again on Saturday, leading the forward line at 19 for the third game in succession.
Having saved them in Clones with a stoppage-time goal, he scored 2-6 against Kildare, 1-5 from play, although the second goal was gifted by Mark Donnellan when the Kildare goalkeeper lost possession to Sean O'Shea and Clifford kicked to an empty net a minute after half-time.
Kildare led 1-12 to 1-6 when Neil Flynn was sent off approaching half-time after an incident with Killian Young which drew a strong response from Kildare manager Cian O'Neill afterwards. O'Neill's exasperation was justified; the call, which looked to come from the linesman, was very hars.
"It is just embarrassing when you see mistakes like that at this level," stated O'Neill. "There was contact, it was definitely a yellow card because he came in late, but as I said, and I understand the rules quite well, definitely no striking. It's just a shocking decision."
By then Fitzmaurice was informing his players that he wouldn't be continuing. Having stormed Munster, Kerry's season jackknifed in the opening 'Super 8s' defeat to Galway in Croke Park. "There's no standing over our performance in Croke Park against Galway," Fitzmaurice confessed. "But going after that so aggressively doesn't help young players. The older lads don't really care. They've been there, they've done that but when you're trying to develop young players it's easier to do it in a positive environment."
For long spells of the first half on Saturday, Kerry struggled. Kieran Donaghy got little change off Mick O'Grady, before being replaced by James O'Donghue at half-time. O'Donghue energised the attack and scored a fine solo goal 11 minutes into the second half. Killian Young returned after suspension but was also withdrawn at the interval, after Paul Cribbin had helped himself to five points from play.
Defenders Peter Kelly and Kevin Flynn exploited gaps in a porous home defence to nail rousing Kildare scores.
Once again Kerry were thankful for Clifford. They were trailing 0-4 to 0-8 when he landed a badly-needed point from play in the 20th minute and two minutes later scored from the penalty spot to leave the teams level, after Kevin Flynn took down David Moran.
When Kerry took the lead for the first time in the 26th minute, Clifford scoring after a neat move, they looked ready to take charge. But Kildare hit a purple patch. Flynn landed a 45 and in the 29th minute he was picked out by Chris Healy's pass and turned his man before lashing the ball to the Kerry net. A Flynn free and two more from Cribbin ended a run of 1-4 without reply.
Trailing by four points at the interval, 1-12 to 1-8, Kerry took control after half-time to overpower the visitors, benefiting hugely from the extra man. Kildare ended the match with 12 men, with O'Grady red carded in stoppage time and Paddy Brophy black carded when the visitors had used up their full allocation of substitutes. They also lost David Hyland to a black card near half-time.
Within two minutes of the second half Kerry were level. Clifford punished Donnellan's sloppiness and Paul Geaney levelled from play. O'Donoghue's goal put more daylight between the teams, opening a five-point advantage, and from there the hosts were never in bother. Kildare's second goal, from top scorer Cribbin, came in stoppage-time.
But the night was about the departure of the Kerry manager. "I've a box full of anonymous letters," he said afterwards when asked about some of the criticism that had come his way.
SCORERS: Kerry - D Clifford 2-6 (1-0 pen, 0-1 f), S O'Shea 0-5 (0-3 fs, 0-2 45s), J O'Donoghue 1-2, J Barry 0-3, M Burns, P Geaney 0-2 (0-1 f), K Donaghy, D Moran, S O'Brien, K McCarthy, T Morley 0-1. Kildare - P Cribbin 1-5, N Flynn 1-3 (0-2 fs), K Feely 0-3 (0-3 fs), T Moolick, P Kelly, N Kelly, K Flynn, J Byrne 0-1.
KERRY - B Kelly 7; J Foley 7, P Crowley 7, T O'Sullivan 7; P Murphy 7, K Young 5, G White 8; D Moran 7, J Barry 8; M Burns 7, S O'Shea 7, S O'Brien 8; D Clifford 9, K Donaghy 5, P Geaney 7. Subs: K McCarthy 7 for Young & J O'Donoghue 8 for Donaghy (both half-time); D O'Sullivan 7 for Burns (57); T Morley 7 for Foley (58); A Maher N/A for O'Shea (66); B Begley N/A for White (inj 68).
KILDARE - M Donnellan 5; P Kelly 8, M O'Grady 8, D Hyland 7; J Byrne 7, E Doyle 7, K Flynn 7; P Brophy 7, T Moolick 7; F Conway 6, P Cribbin 9, K Cribbin 6; N Flynn 8, K Feely 7, N Kelly 7. Subs: C Healy 7 for K Cribbin (25); J Murray 7 for Hyland (b/c 36); C McNally 7 for Kelly (46); E Callaghan 7 for Conway (50); F Dowling 7 for Moolick (55); M Hyland 7 for Kelly (61).
REF - D O'Mahony (Tipperary).