Tuesday 21 August 2018

Tomás Ó Sé: Mistakes made but history will be kind to Eamonn Fitzmaurice

In the end, we have to accept in Kerry that we simply aren't good enough just now

Eamonn Fitzmaurice before his last game as Kerry boss on Saturday. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Eamonn Fitzmaurice before his last game as Kerry boss on Saturday. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Tomás Ó Sé

This wasn't how it was meant to be. The first 'Super 8s' competition is over and in Kerry we are dealing with the idea that maybe we aren't so super after all.

We can look at things any way we want but when you boil it all down, Kerry didn't deserve to be in an All-Ireland semi-final. There can be no question about that.

It's an uncomfortable place for Kerry football to find itself. When Kerry lose, it's taken personally and inevitably there's a fall-out. We saw that already when Eamonn Fitzmaurice walked away after six years in charge.

I'll be straight and say I had no inkling that he was about to step down. The rumour mill whirrs regularly in Kerry, probably too often in fact, and it's usually based on nothing, but there were no rumblings ahead of Saturday's game in Killarney. No indication that if Kerry didn't qualify that Fitzmaurice would walk away.

The first idea I had that something might be up was when he was on the pitch after the game with his daughter. I know Eamonn very well. We effectively grew up playing football together and we started out on a Kerry minor team in 1995 and that immediately struck me as odd. It just wouldn't be his style.

Then word filtered back that he was in a room with the county chairman for 20 minutes. Before long, he told the squad he was gone. And now the analysis will start about the hows and the whys and the what-ifs.

Look, Eamonn is a friend but you have to call it straight. When the post-mortem starts and blame is being apportioned, he'll have to take his share. But from that point of view there is plenty to go around.

Players, management and supporters all have a case to answer but Eamonn is the manager and that means he'll take the brunt of it. That's just the way of these things.

I think Eamonn had a style of football he wanted to play. He wanted them to be direct and pacy and put serious heat on opponents when they are in possession.

They did it for him in patches like against Kildare and Monaghan in the second half and versus Cork. But I'm starting to think he just didn't have the players to do what he needed.

Kerry were far too easy to hurt on the scoreboard. The bottom line is as a defensive unit Kerry struggled badly. Can that be laid at the door of management? Yes, but then again if you don't have the players it's a catch-22 situation.

People might say that that was his job, to find a system to suit the players we had. But maybe we didn't have the personnel ready to go all the way just now.

The young fellas did well, especially when you consider how many of them were thrown in together this year. But you can't deny that Kerry struggled with their game-plan against the better teams.

God knows Fitzmaurice tried. He knew we were too easy to score against and he tried everything he could. He played with and without a sweeper in big games. He moved the pieces around the board in a bid to try and find the right combination.

He gave six years of his life to manage Kerry and had some success doing it.

But what does he get in return? A box of anonymous letters written by fools who clearly don't understand the game. That left a sour taste with me. It's just not the GAA way. That's just cowards and bullies acting out when you send something like that to a man's house.

People might say I was guilty of personalising things a few weeks ago when I wrote an article about Kildare and Cian O'Neill. But that was about O'Neill the coach, not O'Neill the man. It was never meant to be a personal attack.

I was calling Kildare and O'Neill out, saying it was time to deliver on their undoubted potential. I stand behind what I wrote. They were much better than the year they had put in to that point.

And in fairness to them they rammed those words back down my throat with how they performed over the rest of their season. And with the U-20s winning the All-Ireland, Kildare football is in a good place.

Things are raw down here. We're hurting and it's time for a bit of introspection. But down the line I think history will be kind to Fitzmaurice.

He's won All-Irelands as a player, a selector and a manager. He was a big part in Feale Rangers coming together and winning a county championship.

He was the man who was able to unite the north Kerry clubs and get them all pulling together.

And he was one of the key men in getting Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne to the point where, pulling from just over 200 boys, they are regularly competing in Hogan Cup finals.

He is the only man to steer a team to a win over Dublin in a national final of late and he won six Munster titles in a row.

I don't care what anyone says, his record speaks for itself.

I'll be accused of standing up for an old friend but that win in 2014 was totally against the head.

And they won that final playing some really tactically-astute football where they essentially beat Donegal at their own game.

His credentials speak for themselves to the point where if there was going to be a change I'd like to have seen him stay on in some capacity.

That won't happen now and I don't think we have to look too far for his successor. Some combination of Diarmuid Murphy, Maurice Fitzgerald, Seamus Moynihan, Declan O'Sullivan and Tommy Griffin can take the thing on a bit.

We have the right men there. We'll just need to give them the space.

I think time will show that Fitzmaurice has left Kerry football in a better place than he found it.

I played for a year under Eamonn in 2013. I was on my last legs and there were a few others like me but we still brought Dublin to the brink in that year's epic All-Ireland semi-final.

Over the next few years our team broke up. We lost the likes of Paul Galvin, Declan O'Sullivan and my brother Marc.

Before that Darragh, Tom O'Sullivan and others had hung up their boots too.

Fitzmaurice came in at a time when a very good Kerry team were breaking up and still he won All-Ireland semi-finals against the likes of Mayo and Tyrone. He did well to snaffle an All-Ireland when he did. He was also around when Dublin produced what is, to my mind, their greatest team.

Look, he made mistakes too, there's no getting away from that.

I think they missed a big trick when they didn't get Donie Buckley back in a couple of years ago.

I understand that Donie was interested and if you look at the work he did with Mayo you can see his value.

I've already touched on the defensive issues and we might have made more progress there too.

Team selections and changes and tactics can all be picked at too but I can't get away from the fact that Kerry just aren't good enough at the minute.

Kerry will improve. I think those young lads that Fitzmaurice has been working with in the background for a couple of years, and made their debuts this summer, will go on to have great careers.

And when the time comes for them to move on at the end of their playing days, they'll see that the work Fitzmaurice did stood them, and Kerry football in general, in great stead.

Fitzmaurice has passed on something that few people can and that's an understanding of what Kerry football is about and what it stands for.

He did that both as a player and a manager and left a culture in place for the next man to take the lead and bring the county back to the big days once more.

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