Saturday 18 August 2018

Martin Breheny: Kingdom and Tipp need to address their 'divine right' syndrome

Both have lost managers who were subjected to harsh criticism over championship struggles

In happier times: Eamonn Fitzmaurice lifts the Sam Maguire in 2014, his second year in charge of Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile
In happier times: Eamonn Fitzmaurice lifts the Sam Maguire in 2014, his second year in charge of Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

In the run-up to the 2002 football final, Joe Kernan received dozens of letters and 'good luck' cards from people offering their best wishes to Armagh in their pursuit of a first All-Ireland title.

He also got one with a Kerry postmark, which took a different view. It informed him that useless Armagh were wasting their time and that even the Kerry subs would beat them hands down.

"Nothing less than a cricket score, another All-Ireland for Kerry, doom and gloom for Armagh. So long. Rathmore, Co. Kerry."

More sneering than nasty, it may have had nothing whatsoever to do with Rathmore or indeed Kerry, since someone from elsewhere could have posted it while passing through the Kingdom.

Still, Kernan was both amazed and amused that anyone would waste time, effort and the cost of a stamp on such a petty exercise.

Anyway, he didn't care a jot who the sender was. It's different for Eamonn Fitzmaurice, who revealed after stepping down as Kerry manager last Saturday that he had "a box full of anonymous letters."

The fateful Jake Morris effort that hit the upright against Clare and ultimately proved the beginning of the end for manager Michael Ryan. Photo: Sportsfile
The fateful Jake Morris effort that hit the upright against Clare and ultimately proved the beginning of the end for manager Michael Ryan. Photo: Sportsfile

Imagine that. A man who gave such excellent service, first as a player and later as manager (one All-Ireland, one Allianz League and six successive Munster titles), was effectively subjected to bullying and intimidation by his own people.

Presumably, it was by a small number, but there were wider criticisms too in what Fitzmaurice termed "over-the-top negativity."

"When you are preaching patience about a young group, we didn't carry that through as a county at all this summer," he said.

He unloaded some other home truths too, pointing to how difficult it was for the younger players to thrive amid the growing public negativity. He also called for patience so that his successor can work in a calm atmosphere as he builds for the future.

"As a county, we have probably hung our hat too much on the minor successes, which have been outstanding. But winning minor All-Irelands and senior All-Ireland's are a very different thing," he said.

Fitzmaurice is too diplomatic to tell the critics to go to hell, but if they study carefully what he said, the message was clear. They may not grasp it, of course, since it's far easier to live with the arrogant assumption that because it's Kerry, success comes as a divine right.


Other than whip Clare, who didn't do themselves justice, and Cork, whose shocking decline saw them avoid relegation to Division 3 on the tightest of margins, Kerry had done nothing to justify favouritism to top their 'Super 8' group, yet it seems everyone in the county regarded it as a certainty.

It sounded very much like a case of 'we'll take it from here now' against Galway and Monaghan, both of whom beat Kerry in the League, and Kildare. Fitzmaurice was preaching caution, but that appears to have become an irritant.

"Eamonn, we won the last four minor titles, now like a good fellow just promote them seniors and stop Dublin winning the four-in-a-row."

When the signs became ominous during the year, the criticism gathered momentum, before eventually playing a part in Fitzmaurice's decision to leave.

The critics may see his departure as the only triumph of the year, but what happens if his successor doesn't deliver an All-Ireland next season? Kerry have lots of exciting young talent coming through, but that's no guarantee of success, certainly not in the short term.

The line between cherishing a wonderful tradition and acquiring a sense of entitlement can be very narrow. Kerry are rightfully proud of their past and, no doubt, there's more to come, but, in the interim, they need to accept it's a period of transition. While that's underway, attacking managers and players merely demeans the county.

The same applies in Tipperary hurling, where Michael Ryan, who like Fitzmaurice was re-appointed for three years last autumn, has also stepped down. Failure to get into the top three in the Munster round robin hit Tipp hard so, inevitably, the sniping began.

The fact that the standard among five Munster counties has never been so close was largely ignored, but then it's always easier to blame the manager than engage in rational analysis. Tipp lost out so it had to be someone's fault.

Just as the width of a post probably cost Clare dearly last Sunday, the same applied to Tipp when they needed to beat the Banner in their last round robin game.

If the shot by Jake Morris late on ended in the net rather than clipping the post, Tipperary's season would have taken a different direction. Indeed, they might now be preparing for an All-Ireland final.

Instead, they are looking for a new manager. We don't know how much influence the public or the players, who allegedly wanted changes in Ryan's support group, had on his decision to resign but it's fair to assume there was a link.

We're back to a sense of entitlement again. Tipperary's failure to reach the latter stages of the All-Ireland series doesn't mean that the manager was wrong.

Still, finding a scapegoat is always easier than dealing in reality. Mind you, it's also more toxic.

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