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legend Maurice Fitz the Kerry bill ahead of make-or-break year for Keane

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Maurice Fitzgerald will be lending his considerable advice to David Clifford and Kerry’s other forwards this season. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Maurice Fitzgerald will be lending his considerable advice to David Clifford and Kerry’s other forwards this season. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Maurice Fitzgerald will be lending his considerable advice to David Clifford and Kerry’s other forwards this season. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Maurice Fitzgerald has been a Kerry legend for longer than most of us can remember. For the past four years he has been a Kerry selector. Now comes a more hands-on role in 2021, coaching the Kerry forwards.

Fitzgerald's enhanced job-spec is the headline nugget amid the latest reported backroom manoeuvres in the Kingdom.

But the fact there are no new additions to Peter Keane’s core management team is perhaps just as newsworthy: a statement of intent, almost, from a manager who was suddenly lumbered with a new adjective – “embattled” – after events in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last November.

Retired Kerry forward Darran O’Sullivan has welcomed the new role for Fitzgerald – and he can also understand the rationale behind Keane’s decision to stick with his existing managerial ticket in a make-or-break season still shrouded by the never-ending uncertainty of Covid.

“Look, the pressure is on,” O’Sullivan told the Irish Independent. “It’s a three-year deal and he’s in the third year. Realistically, we haven’t won it since 2014 and, the longer these things go, the harder it is and the more blockages are in your way.

“But the big thing is the manager and the management team have to be comfortable to do things their way. They don’t want to be pressurised into changing tack altogether.

"They got brought in because they were seen as the men capable of doing a job and getting Kerry back on top, and you have to trust them. And they have to trust themselves, because their ability has got them this far.

"So, there’s no point trying to get in all these different people if you’re not comfortable, because at the end of the day you’ll be left with ‘What if?’ If they go on and win it, great. If they don’t, at least he did it his own way.”

It has been an eye-opening few months for Keane, who knew nothing but continual success as a Kerry minor boss, then pushed Dublin to an All-Ireland final replay in his maiden senior campaign, and followed up with a league title last October.

Then came the shock-horror defeat to Cork. All changed in an instant.

The subsequent rumours of a player mutiny may have told you less about reality and more about the viral perils of WhatsApp, but it also reflected a major upping of the ante for Keane.

The Kerry management has been one coach down for 11 months, ever since Donie Buckley’s sudden departure. Whatever about the never-explained background behind the Keane-Buckley schism, it wouldn’t have mattered a whit if Kerry had lifted the only cannister that counts in the Kingdom.

Losing to Cork prompted talk of a management team shake-up; Paul Galvin was touted as a potential new voice, but that trail soon went cold.

Cue this week’s development, with ‘The Kerryman' and ‘Kerry’s Eye’ both reporting that Fitzgerald will take on additional responsibilities working specifically with the forwards.

The 1997 Footballer of the Year is entering his fifth consecutive year as a selector; the first two of those were under Éamonn Fitzmaurice, overlapping with O’Sullivan’s last two years as a Kerry player.

His “one-to-one” coaching contact with Fitzgerald was confined to when he was coming back from injury, but he always found him approachable and is confident that he’ll bring just the right balance to his new role.

“You can over-coach forwards; he (Fitzgerald ) is not going to come in there and over-coach. A lot of it is just opening fellas’ eyes to what’s directly in front of them – even lifting the head. I always found the more instructions I got, the worse I played. He’ll just simplify things,” he said.

The unanswered conundrum is whether an elevated role for Maurice Fitz can unlock the full prolific potential in a team that butchered far more chances (19) than they converted (13) amid the Páirc Uí Chaoimh downpours.

Their best forward that day was Killian Spillane; but his 0-4 came off the bench. O’Sullivan says we shouldn’t ignore the enforced absence of Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue.

“That day was always going to be an awkward game; it was do-or-die, conditions were awful, and your two main leaders (in attack) were two of our young guys in David (Clifford) and Seánie (O’Shea). And that’s not a disrespect to them, but that’s where you need your older fellas,” he surmises.

" You’d a defender (Brian Ó Beaglaoich) playing wing-forward and you’d a debutant (Ronan Buckley) the other wing forward … and inside Tony (Brosnan) who was like a debutant as well.”

No one in Kerry needs reminding how it all panned out. Yet O’Sullivan is enthused by news that nutritionist Kevin Beasley is rejoining the fold, along with Gavin Rackard, describing Beasley as “absolutely brilliant” and someone the players loved.

On the coaching front, however, O’Sullivan concludes: “Sometimes the more voices you have, the more confusing things get. It’s about maximising the voices that they have; and in Maurice you have somebody who’s capable of being the main voice as well as just a coach.

“So, it’s about maximising what you have. You’ve Tommy Griffin working with the backs; fellas will respect Tommy, he’s been there, he’s done that. Maurice is the same. They know football.

“For me, it’s about breaking it down; giving the management team specific roles: ‘That is your baby, you make sure the forwards are firing, you make sure the forwards are happy going out onto the field’ … because if they’re happy, confident and comfortable, they’re going to perform 99 times out of a hundred. Guaranteed.”

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