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Key to the Kingdom

'He nurtured players that fit in seamlessly' - Fitzmaurice's great Kerry achievement

Cian O’Neill knows the Kingdom boss well.

EAMONN FITZMAURICE HAS ensured his Kerry legacy by ushering in a new generation of green and gold heroes, Cian O’Neill said.

O’Neill stood side-by-side with Fitzmaurice last month as Kerry were outplayed by Dublin in the Croke Park rain.

The defeat was his final game as Kingdom trainer before he left for his native Kildare and his first job in senior inter-county management.

With a new-look backroom, Fitzmaurice has agreed to return for a fourth year as Kerry boss and a chance to add to the All-Ireland title he masterminded in 2014.

Famously, nine of the Kerry side which started against Donegal that day were lining out in their first final as Fitzmaurice drew a line under the old order and brought in the new.

“For sustainability, it’s certainly the best thing he has done as a manager,” O’Neill said of the transition.

“In the short-term, the best thing he’s done is win an All-Ireland final against all odds and, to be honest, nobody gave us a chance last year.

“I think the key thing you need to do as a manager when you come in is ensure that you leave it in a better position when you leave than how you found it. Even if it’s been at the highest level, you need to extend that even further.

There’s no question that one of Eamonn’s greatest legacies — apart from winning the All-Ireland, and he’s going to have another go at that this year — is that he has nurtured a group of players (…) that have fitted into a system seamlessly that was occupied by some of the top players of the noughties, multiple All-Ireland winners.

“That’s a serious legacy to leave behind you but it’s not a legacy yet because he’s going after it one more time.”

Kildare GAA Sponsorship Announcement with Brady Family Ham Cody Glenn / SPORTSFILE New Kildare boss Cian O'Neill was speaking yesterday at the announcement of a new three-year sponsorship deal with Brady's Family Ham. Cody Glenn / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

O’Neill is still stumped by Kerry’s flat performance against the Dubs. Although they only lost by three points in the end, 0-12 to 0-9, Kerry were roundly criticised for failing to match the challenge of Jim Gavin’s men.

The performance wasn’t as bad as it was later made out to be, O’Neill said — not that it makes it any easier to swallow or to explain.

“(Watching it back) I felt that we were closer than I did at the time but I’m also very aware that Dublin had some clear-cut chances too, and you can’t escape that.

“But it wasn’t as bad as I thought, and it is normally the other way. That is just my perspective and obviously I am biased.

“There is no way of putting your finger on (what went wrong). I haven’t spoken to many players, I have spoken to some. I think it was just a catalogue of different things that went against us on the day.”

Conditions in Croke Park were terrible for both sides, making for one of the most forgettable finals in recent years, but O’Neill refuses to blame the weather or the slippery surface.

It wasn’t the weather. How could it be? We had beaten Cork in the replay, beaten Tyrone, and it wasn’t an issue.

It wasn’t over-training. We had tapered as we did for every other match.

The mood in the camp was great the day before.

“It is just one of those mysteries of sport and I think unless you are involved in it yourself, you think, God there must have been something. Sometimes there is not something, there is just a variety of things that go against you. And that’s my best explanation of what it was.”

He added: “It certainly was devastating. When you perform and you are beaten by a better team, sometimes that can be easier to accept but when you don’t perform, that was  tough to take.

“I don’t think Dublin performed particularly well either, but I think we under-performed more than they did.”

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