‘You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t’ - Eamonn Fitzmaurice on the pitfalls of playing a sweeper
Fitzmaurice says playing a sweeper is not always the answer - it all depends on how opposition sets up
When it comes to the cacophony of criticism swirling around Kerry football, Éamonn Fitzmaurice has a very simple coping strategy, albeit one his players - wired in as they are - find it harder to follow.
"At the moment I'm off from work so I can go into the bunker and be hard to be got at, I did that after the Galway game," he says.
"But I'm from a slightly older generation than the lads in that I can actually put my phone out of my hand for five minutes. I think for the players it's challenging when they are out working and meeting people and so much of their lives are in their phones - it's hard to avoid a lot of it."
Few counties hold its stars in such esteem, or to such standards, as Kerry, but after a lifeless loss to Galway and an unconvincing draw against Monaghan, there has been no shortage of Kingdom supporters voicing their disapproval at their style of play.
"You are meeting people in the street and they might mean the best in the world but we can be direct in Kerry," says Fitzmaurice.
"It's not hard for me but I do think it is hard for players. But look, it's all part of the learning process and the easiest way to create positivity is to win games."
Fitzmaurice admits there was some soul-searching within their ranks after the Galway game on July 15, when Kerry followed up a strong Munster Championship campaign with a three-point defeat to the Tribesmen in their 'Super 8s' opener.
"Everyone was really disappointed and we were all puzzled at where the performance had come from, but by Monday we had to be gathering ourselves to be ready to go again for Monaghan.
"Getting back on the horse and playing a game straight away is the best cure and luckily for us, if it was other seasons it would have been game over, ball burst, but we did have another chance at redemption. As a player that's all you want - a chance to go out and prove your point again."
With Tadhg Morley, Jason Foley, Shane Enright and Killian Young out of commission for their trip to Clones 10 days ago, Fitzmaurice was forced to field a new full-back line against Monaghan.
Fitzmaurice chose not to play a sweeper as he did against Galway, with Conor McManus running riot and helping himself to 1-9, 1-4 from play. "That is damned if you do and damned if you don't," says Fitzmaurice.
"If we had someone back in front of McManus he might not have scored as much but maybe we might not have scored as much either, so you play each game on its merit.
"Monaghan play orthodox when they have the ball so it's harder to have someone back in place (to play sweeper) while with Galway, most of their team go behind the ball and it makes more sense to have someone back there, but it can be hard to explain that at times."
At the weekend Fitzmaurice said he was confident that Morley and Foley will be fit to play this Saturday, when Kerry host Kildare in a must-win game in Fitzgerald Stadium. Given their erratic form this season, his team selection will be imperative.
"We put a lot of time into trying to get it right and there's a competitive squad there and a competitive panel but I don't see it as being different to the last one.
"Every time you sit down to pick a squad, whether it's a league or championship game, you want to get it right. This is a must-win game so we must get it right."
One troubling trend of late is how many of Kerry's senior stars continue to misfire, which presents a curious conundrum for Fitzmaurice as he tries to strike a balance between form and experience for a team in transition.
"You are aware that some of the exposure the younger lads are getting at the moment will help their long-term development but all we are focused on within the group is the here and now and the Kildare game - try and win that and see where that takes us."
Fitzmaurice and Co know that their fate, for once, doesn't rest solely in their own hands, with the Kingdom only advancing to a semi-final if Galway also beat Monaghan in Salthill. But for all the unrest of late, the manager has come to terms with the current situation.
"My attitude all along to the Super 8s has been if you don't come through it, you are not good enough and if you do come through, then you are well tested and ready for an All-Ireland semi-final. We are still in that position."