Goals were the key to victory, says Fitzmaurice
This time last year Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice cut a dejected figure in the imposing Croke Park Media Centre.
His team had just lost to Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final, a defeat that was particularly hard to take for a manager in his first year who had won the ultimate honour on three occasions as a player.
But yesterday there was no disguising the satisfaction that victory over Donegal brought for the affable schoolteacher.
“It feels good, I’m very satisfied. But when you’re out in the middle of it you have to try and enjoy that as well although at the end there was a few times the lads were testing my mettle with a bit of their decision-making. But it’s a great place to me and I’m delighted,” said Fitzmaurice.
Much had been made of the fact that Kerry could not afford to concede goals yesterday and the fact that they kept a clean sheet while forcing Paul Durcan to pick the ball out of his net twice clearly pleased the Kingdom boss.
“It was a thing we had discussed in the lead-up to the game that we felt goals were going to be very important — Donegal, if they don’t get goals, they probably struggle to score enough and if we could get goals it could prove be a big factor,” revealed Fitzmaurice.
“Thankfully we got the two goals because they were very close right at the end and also had missed a great chance through Darrach O’Connor although to be fair to our goalkeeper Brian Kelly, it clipped his heels so it was a great save,” added Fitzmaurice.
But while Kerry is en fete today with a special homecoming planned for the team tonight, Fitzmaurice is quick to concede that it was not all sunshine yesterday.
“We were struggling for scores at times. We were creating chances but we just weren’t accurate enough,” he pointed out.
“We knew that we would get shots from distance away and we were going to take them if it was the right decision. If we got it, brilliant, and if we missed, it wasn’t going to affect us.
“We figured that we’d get enough over the 70 minutes. But there were chances we should have converted, even Paul Geaney’s point.
“For such a neat finisher it was a great goal chance. It was a chance he could have rolled in rather than go for a high shot.”
Fitzmaurice certainly deployed his substitutes well, a plus-factor that clearly delighted him.
“We wanted to get different players on — with Barry John Keane we wanted to get a bit of energy in there, with Declan O’Sullivan we wanted to get a warrior in there, with Bryan Sheehan we wanted to get a place-kicker on and with Shane Enright we wanted a man to mark Patrick McBrearty,” disclosed the Kingdom supremo.
And it came as no big surprised when Fitzmaurice eulogised the input of Kieran Donaghy.
“He was very important. He got a goal obviously, other scores came off him and for the first goal he was the decoy,” he explained.
“He had a massive contribution and he had a renaissance in the second half of the season which was always going to happen because he was always working very hard.”