Eamonn Fitzmaurice chose not to watch Kildare last weekend - but he has no regrets

All-Ireland champions will be ready for the Lilywhites in Croke Park this Sunday.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

EAMONN FITZMAURICE ROLLED the dice last Saturday — and decided to go to Westmeath against Fermanagh.

Within a couple of hours, his decision appeared to have backfired. Kildare stunned Cork and ensured that it was them, rather than the winners of the Breffni Park tussle, who would face Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

It was one of the shocks of the football summer so far, and on the face of it, it seemed to have caught the Kerry camp off guard as well.

Fortunately for Fitzmaurice, no inter-county manager is an island. As he and selector Diarmuid Murphy packed up in Cavan, two more of his backroom team — Cian O’Neill and Mikey Sheehy — were just settling into their seats in Thurles.

Kildare’s win might have shaken up plans a little, but it’s no big deal for the Kingdom boss.

“Cian knows Kildare very well,” Fitzmaurice explained.

“He would have worked with a lot of those lads when he was involved with the Kildare minors, one of the years he was involved with the Tipp hurlers.

“He would know a lot of those players well so it was a no-brainer for Cian to go to Thurles and Mikey went with him.

Jason Ryan Kildare boss Jason Ryan celebrates their win over Cork. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“Diarmuid and myself went for Cavan because the chances were 2/1 that the opposition could come out of the game in Cavan between Westmeath and Fermanagh, but it didn’t work out that way and sure there’s no big deal.

I mean the two lads were in Thurles and they had a great report to bring back and I obviously trust them and it was on TV as well. It wasn’t that much of a big deal.

“I suppose it was 700 kilometres that could have been better utilised is maybe one way of looking at it, but everything worked out fine in fairness.”

The level of surprise that greeted Kildare’s win is a mark of how far the Lilywhites’ stock has fallen in recent years.

Following back-to-back relegations they have slumped to Division 3, and the championship has hardly been much kinder. They haven’t made it to a quarter-final since 2012, and the 19-point hammering at Dublin’s hands earlier this year seemed to articulate their worst fears.

But in Jason Ryan they have a manager with a knack for the qualifiers, and after falling just short 12 months ago, he has guided them to the last eight.

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“There’s no need for me to be talking up Kildare because everyone will have seen the quality that they brought,” Fitzmaurice said.

“They were a Division One team 15 months ago and they’ve had two relegations since and had a lot of bad luck with injuries.

“Niall Kelly missed a lot of this season and we saw the way he played last Saturday evening.

Bryan Sheehan with Eoghan O'Flaherty, Tomas O'Connor and Darroch Mulhall Kerry and Kildare's last competitive clash was in March 2014, a six-point win for the Kingdom. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“They have marquee forwards who can score, they are very strong at midfield, they have good backs, a good keeper who has very accurate kick outs, and can kick 45s. I don’t think there is any need for me to be talking them up.

There will be a good realisation out there of the quality that they are going to bring, whereas if you were playing maybe one of the so-called lesser teams, it might be harder to get the lads zoomed in on it.

“I think having seen the game, most of the lads will know the challenge that lies ahead for us.”

Fitzmaurice insists that this Kildare side is a very different proposition from the one dismantled by the Dubs. Although they struggled past Offaly in their first qualifier outing, their win over Longford — and the complete nature of their performance against Cork — has given them that most precious of commodities.


“If you go back to 2009 when Kerry won the All-Ireland through the qualifiers: Kerry were very poor in the Munster championship that year, ok against Longford, Diarmuid Murphy saved our bacon in Tralee against Sligo, didn’t play well in the first half against Antrim – teams you mightn’t be saying were top tier opposition – and came out after half time up in Tullamore, kicked on, played well and then had Dublin the following weekend and won that game, and it took off from there.

“When you have momentum and you’re building and building – okay you can paint it any way you want – but if you have momentum, you’re coming in with confidence.

Particularly the way they played, it wasn’t as if they fell over the line. It wasn’t like they got a lucky goal in the end, a last-minute goal or something like that. They played serious football.

They played a lot of serious football, got a lot of very good scores, (they were) well structured, worked very hard for each other — so all the ingredients if you were managing a team were there from your team the last day.

“Their form at the moment is the form line to look at rather than going back in time. Their form over the last couple of weeks has been very good. They’ll be dangerous opposition next weekend.”

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