Monday 20 November 2017

'We would have brought on 10 subs today if we could'

Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice looks on in the rain at Croke Park yesterday
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice looks on in the rain at Croke Park yesterday
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice congratulating Dublin boss Jim Gavin
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Outworked, out-thought, outfought. Eamonn Fitzmaurice couldn't have been more clear-cut about the range of deficits his team experienced as a potentially harrowing post-mortem began in earnest.

This defeat won't sit easily in the Kingdom, a third in succession to a Dublin team that has their number, their calling card and, in truth, just about any other possession at this stage.

Four years ago they could take curious comfort in the adversity of some key refereeing decisions; in 2013 they came out the wrong side of an All-Ireland semi-final firefight that produced so much compelling football.

But this will leave them emptier because the gulf was so great. Right now Kerry football finds itself in a worse clinch than Tyrone had them in throughout the previous decade.

Quite frankly, it must rank as Kerry's poorest All-Ireland final performance in modern times.

They were miles off, save for a brief period in the first quarter when they squeezed Stephen Cluxton into a few now characteristic errors.

The last time they delivered a scoring yield as low was the 1965 All-Ireland final against Galway when they lost by an identical scoreline.

So Fitzmaurice comes into the press auditorium and doesn't try to butter it up as anything other than it is. Pragmatism has been the cornerstone of his three years with this Kerry team and it coats his analysis now.

"If you are going to win an All-Ireland final you have to turn up, you have to play. We didn't do that today," he acknowledged.

"You have to give a lot of credit to Dublin. They played very well. They had the best of both worlds. They worked so hard up front.

"Their forwards worked so hard that when we were in possession they were slowing us down coming out and at the same time getting bodies back, which was a very effective game-plan.

"We, in possession, weren't as accurate or as clinical as we can be. We did okay, in fairness, without the ball, but in possession we would have been disappointed."

Encapsulated

Nothing encapsulated their problems - and Dublin's distinct tactical edge - more than Colm Cooper's duel with Philly McMahon, who repeated his front-foot All-Ireland semi-final replay performance on Mayo's Aidan O'Shea by taking his opponent to areas of the field he has never truly been comfortable in.

McMahon is changing the rules of engagement for corner-back play in the same way that Ryan McMenamin did a decade ago. His 35th-minute point brought to five the number of Championship games he has scored in now.

It was strange to be watching the landmark forward of his era, who has now lost more All-Ireland finals (five) than he has won (four), having to scramble so deep to make up ground in the slipstream of a corner-back so often in the first half.

How did Dublin engineer that again?

"I think that was down to Dublin having the ball and us turning over ball," reflected Fitzmaurice.

"If we were in possession and if we had the ball and were getting Colm on the ball where we wanted him to be on the ball and getting Philly McMahon defending him, we'd have been playing the game on our terms.

"But for a lot of the first half we had to play on Dublin's terms."

And that was it essentially it, they played the game for too long on Dublin's terms.

Fitzmaurice had made some big calls during the week, omitting Marc Ó Sé and Paul Murphy, but there were some mitigating factors.

Between illness and injuries to a toe, calf and hamstrings, the veteran defender had trained just three times from the week before the Tyrone match, the "run-in to an All-Ireland final from hell" as Fitzmaurice described it. Murphy too had hip trouble.

But, critically, Fitzmaurice acknowledged both were "fine" to come in and defence was not an issue on the day.

"Overall, I think we would have been happy with the six backs that started. If you told me this morning that Dublin would score only 12 points, I would have bitten your hand off," he said.

Off the bench Darran O'Sullivan and Kieran Donaghy made the biggest impacts but with so much apparent choice behind him making the right ones has become a delicate exercise.

Tommy Walsh's complete exclusion since claiming three kick-outs against Kildare and winning a free off another seven weeks ago is a curious one, sure to exercise some strong opinion in the coming days.

Fitzmaurice didn't seek to dampen the consensus that his training ground form had been strong.

"Unfortunately you can only bring on six. We would have brought on 10 today if we could," he conceded.

Fitzmaurice revealed his pride at the way his players threw themselves into the game after the break.

"We were still only four points down and this team has come back from bigger deficits so I wasn't overly worried at half-time. I felt that if we played any bit at all in the second half that we'd have a chance to get back into it. But we didn't do enough."

The future is still very bright for Kerry. Earlier in the day Jack O'Connor mined a second successive All-Ireland minor title from a group maybe not as talented as 2014 but with just as much industry. But what we can be certain of is that the 2016 Kerry senior squad will be different in its make up.

Fitzmaurice expressed the hope that "most of them" will continue and is certain they all "can."

Sacrifices

"They're all in tremendous shape. It's whether they're willing to make the sacrifices and if that hunger is there. Often losing an All-Ireland final is the thing that gives that hunger a huge edge again."

But as Ó Sé, still tracksuited as a Kerry team played a Championship match without a member of his immediate family featuring for any part for the first time since the 1994 Munster semi-final defeat to Cork, Aidan O'Mahony and Donaghy stood together in the middle of Croke Park afterwards with Cluxton beginning to clear his throat, there was a strong sense that the next time they'd be together in this place would be as part of a jubilee team.

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