Fitzmaurice is perfect fit

August 21st, 2012
by Weeshie Fogarty

The old adage "familiarly breeds contempt" might well be one of the reasons Jack O'Connor decided recently to step back from the Kerry job for the foreseeable future, back to his home in the quietness and beauty of St Finan's Bay in the heart of South Kerry.

The greatest modern day football manager - and not just in Kerry - is well entitled to spend some quality time with his wife Bridie and sons Eanna and Cian.

Now, if I was a betting man I would put my few bob on the main reason why Jack decided he had enough, and it is this: he was finding it increasingly impossible to motivate the older players as to what was demanded at such a high level. They had become too familiar with his urgings and directions. Yes, they were listening all right but the messages and demands were not registering as in previous years.

This is the natural order of things with, of course, a few notable exceptions. It's the same with all club and county managers. I myself have experienced it on both sides of the fence, as a player and as a trainer. Listening to the same person year after year in the dressing room as a player and then realising when one is in the position as trainer that your players are losing that vital edge as your urgings and advice go in one ear and out the other. It's then time to pack your bags and go as you realise that familiarity breeds contempt.

Jack O'Connor's record is well known and many tributes have rightly been paid to his achievements since his retirement last Saturday week. He has been involved with various Kerry teams since 1993, including all those schools sides he trained to victory. And let's not forget when he took a break from the Kerry job in 2007/08 he managed Kerins O'Rahillys and was desperately unlucky not to win a senior county championship with the Narries.

I referred to him as the best of the modern day managers and here I make the distinction between modern and those who went before. Paidi O Se was, to the best of my knowledge, the very first Kerry man bestowed the title of manager when he took over in 1995 from Ogie Moran. Down through the decades before this the main man was known simply as the trainer. Dr Eamon O'Sullivan trained Kerry to win eight All-Irelands. He was never a selector. Mick O'Dwyer also trained Kerry to eight All-Irelands, but Micko had a big say in the selection of teams. Sean McCarthy from Kerins O'Rahillys trained the famous four-in-a-row winning side of 1929-32; Moyvane's Con Brosnan guided his county to victory in 1939, thus becoming the first victorious captain to train a winning team, and Jackie Lyne of Killarney Legion trained the Kingdom as they won back to back titles in 1969 and 1970, as well as losing the 1968 decider.

I am not comparing Jack O'Connor to these men who were responsible for guiding Kerry in an era that was as different back then as chalk and cheese. The present day game of Gaelic football is simply unrecognisable as to what was played years ago. So it's impossible to judge like with like. However, if you want to judge Kerry trainers by the honours they have achieved with their teams, e.g. senior and under-21 All Irelands and National Leagues then you might finish up, in no special order, with Dr Eamon O'Sullivan, Mick O'Dwyer, Jack O'Connor, Sean McCarthy and Paidi O Se.

Since Jack stepped down the spotlight has been firmly on county board chairman Patrick O'Sullivan and those with him responsible for the appointment of the new man. It's a hugely responsible job. Media reports that seem to be fairly well founded tell us that Eamonn Fitzmaurice has agreed to take the reins of guiding Kerry and I believe this will be generally welcomed by players and followers alike. Both as a player, hurling and football, and his work on the sidelines, and indeed as an Gaelic football analyst in the press, the Finuge man has been hugely impressive. A solid, deep thinking, very knowledgeable, courteous person he has always given me the impression of being cool, calm and collected in everything he undertakes. He will, I believe, be considered a very safe pair of hands.

Nevertheless the down side is the fact that he will no longer be manager of the Kerry Under-21 team. I have written during the year of my great admiration of his work with this age group and in particular the style of fast, open play, skill and abandon displayed by his players as they narrowly failed to beat Cork in that memorable Munster final in Tralee a few months ago. Maybe a further term with this age group would have benefited Eamonn and those younger players greatly. This is just a matter of opinion and the back room team he picks and all those others behind the scene will have a huge bearing on the development and further progress of his team.

Eamonn, when ratified by the county board, will have been appointed to the most difficult, high profile and demanding job in the GAA. The fact that he will accept the position is the greatest sign of the man himself and the pride and passion he holds for the green and gold. It would have been very easy for him to stay with the U-21s and the fact that he has been close to most of the Kerry senior players for a number of years will demand difficult and, at times, painful decisions from him.

However, whatever way you look at the appointment of this latest Kerry manager, one thing is certain. Like all those who have gone before him Eamonn will dedicate his life for the next few years to this massively demanding position. We wish him well as he wrestles with the myriad commitments and demands of the job, with his players, the media and the demands of the clubs as they clamour for more time from their players. A new chapter to 'The Secret of Kerry Football' unfolds.

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