Eamonn Fitzmaurice: 'If you're behind, it's up to you to catch up'
By John Harrington
Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice does not believe the gap between a small elite of strong counties and the rest is growing to the point where it may soon be unbridgeable.
Kerry, Tyrone, Dublin, and Mayo all won their All-Ireland Quarter-Finals (All-Ireland Quarter-Final replay in Mayo’s case) by big margins.
But Fitzmaurice argues a number of results in the earlier rounds proves that the strong aren’t necessarily getting stronger or the weak weaker.
“I do disagree with it, I think the margins are a lot smaller,” said the Kerry manager.
"The quarter-finals threw up big wins but I don't think the margins are as big as people think they are.
"Last year you had Tipperary as one of the last four. I know, at the start of this year, people predicted the top four - most people would have predicted that. But you wouldn't have predicted a lot of the other things that went on in the championship.
"You wouldn't have predicted Down beating Monaghan. Armagh beating Kildare. Maybe people would have given Galway a chance of beating Mayo in Salthill but they'd have said they'd learn from the year before.
"There are always plenty of talking points. I don't know what more people want really.”
Fitzmaurice says the wrong approach for counties struggling to keep up with Dublin, Kerry, Tyrone, and Mayo is to wring their hands and complain about the situation.
Instead he believes the onus is on them to become more competitive, and disagrees with the notion that’s impossible without spending large sums on your county team.
"I do think if you're behind it's up to you to catch up,” says Fitzmaurice.
“We're behind Dublin. We're trying to catch up to them. The onus is on the other counties to try and catch up, be it structures-wise, be it with the way their team is playing, be it with their conditioning - you can do an awful lot.
"Everyone thinks it's all money and it has to be money and it's not. I think you can do a lot without that if you get the proper environment, proper people, proper training, you can achieve a lot.
"Money helps. Absolutely it helps of course when you have the finance to put the things in place that you want to. That's a huge debate - we could be here for the night. How is the finance being spent?
"Is it being spent on managers, management teams, backroom gurus? Or is it being spent on things to help the players. There is plenty of money being spent in every county.
"I don't accept that argument. Dublin have used their resources in a brilliant manner for the last 10 years and more and are reaping the rewards."
It helps your cause too if your county can occasionally produce a unique talent like Kerry’s Kieran Donaghy who has been arguably his team’s most influential player this year at the age of 34.
Many presumed the 2016 campaign would be Donaghy’s last in the Kerry colours and that he’d ride off into the sunset with his buddy Colm Cooper, but instead he’s returned for more and looks better than ever.
"I'd say he had in his head last year to retire,” said Fitzmaurice, “but I said it to him early in the summer around the time of the Munster final, 'There's more in you, keep going, you'll be gone for long enough’.
"And he thought about it I'd say and he'd a bit of thinking to do. I think particularly with his book coming out he probably saw that as being a kind of a natural end.
"But he went away and he enjoyed his basketball for the winter, it kept him in good shape and he came back into us and he's been like a breath of fresh air.
"He gives you something that not too many other players anywhere can give you so that's why it's great to have him around the place. Then when his form is as it is you can't ignore him, simple as that."
As good as Donaghy has looked in that lethal Kerry full-forward line alongside Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue this year, Fitzmaurice is adamant they won’t beat Mayo in Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final if they don’t improve on their quarter-final performance against Galway.
"We all were expecting a bigger performance and there was plenty there to be getting our teeth stuck into over the last couple of weeks,” said Fitzmaurice.
“You have to stand back and say we won the game by eight points and the performance on the day was enough to beat Galway in an All-Ireland quarter-final but it'd be a long way short of what we need on Sunday."