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Guiding Kerry's next generation - Fitzmaurice, Ó Sé and Griffin set for Munster final coaching test

Tralee CBS and PS Chorca Dhuibhne contest Saturday’s Munster schools final with well-known faces in charge.

MARC Ó SÉ spent plenty playing days soldiering in the Kerry defensive trenches with Éamonn Fitzmaurice and Tommy Griffin.

pjimage (1) Éamonn Fitzmaurice, Marc Ó Sé and Tommy Griffin are all involved in schools coaching. Source: INPHO

Their experiences yielded a far haul of silver with their combined total of senior medals standing at 24 in Munster and 13 on the All-Ireland stage by the time Ó Sé became the last of the trio to hang up his inter-county boots in October 2016.

The Fitzgerald Stadium pitch was the scene of some of their joyous moments but they’ll park their friendships on Saturday afternoon as a sideline rivalry forms.

Ó Sé is at the helm of Tralee CBS while Fitzmaurice and Griffin are guiding PS Chorca Dhuibhne with the Corn Uí Mhuirí, the blue riband of Munster colleges football, the prize on offer.

There’s a clearly defined pattern in recent times of Kingdom heavyweights getting involved in guiding the next generation of footballers in the county.

Jack O’Connor spearheaded the south Kerry rise of Coláiste na Sceilge from 2000 and was at the helm when they entered the Hogan Cup winners enclosure in 2009. Paul Galvin helped steer a couple of St Brendan’s teams to All-Ireland deciders.

Jack O'Connor celebrates with Damien Hogan Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Paul Galvin consoles Cillian Fitzgerald Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

In West Kerry, Fitzmaurice took a collection of footballers largely drawn from the Dingle and An Ghaeltacht clubs, moulding them into an All-Ireland winning outfit in 2014. Griffin kept those good times rolling the following year as they retained the title.

Seán Ó Bambaire, Eamonn Fitzmaurice and Brian Ó Raoil celebrate Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Tommy Griffin celebrates with his team after the game Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The wisdom and guidance from their Kerry playing seasons is being passed on.

“There’s been a lot of teachers who were involved in Kerry, so you’re bound to get into the Gaelic football side of it in training teams,” says Ó Sé.

“There has been good examples of players getting involved and it’s great to see it because I suppose if we’ve learned anything from Dublin’s success in recent years is that a lot of their former players, the likes of Ciaran Whelan and Dessie Farrell have got involved with development squads up along.

“I remember back in the day when I was involved with Kerry minors and U16s, Charlie Nelligan who was a great Kerry player in the past, and he coming in to us and hanging on his every word.

“Underage football is the purest football of all and it’s so enjoyable to go and watch these games. The tactics are very straightforward, the lads just want to play. I really enjoy working with these young lads, they’re a breath of fresh air.”

If there were concerns a while back in Kerry at their underage football fortunes enduring a fallow period, they have been dispelled by a relentless production of winning teams over the last four years.

Since 2014 PS Chorca Dhuibhne and St Brendan’s have strung together four Hogan Cup victories between them. All-Ireland minor wins have followed for Kerry, the Dingle based school seeing seven students starting in the 2014 triumph and three more in the 2015 success.

13 Kerry players who saw game time between the 2016 and 2017 All-Ireland minor final victories had sampled Hogan Cup glory with the Killarney outfit..

The pathway to senior football with Kerry has been proven this spring. With his Kerry bainisteoir bib on, Fitzmaurice has exposed Barry O’Sullivan, David Clifford, Matthew Flaherty, Brian Ó Beaglaoich, Éanna Ó Conchúir and Tom O’Sullivan to the Division 1 league environment.

David Clifford and Caolan Ward Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Eanna O'Conchuir with Darren Hughes Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

All six of them have Corn Uí Mhuirí medals in their back pockets since 2013. Injuries have stalled the progress of a couple of players and youth is on the side of a few more. If Mark O’Connor had not opted to forge an Aussie Rules career for himself with Geelong, he’d likely be battling for a spot in the Kerry midfield as well.

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“Those guys have always been used to winning, starting off with a lot of good work with their clubs,” says Griffin.

“It is great to see progression there. You’re only getting to see those lads moving on up to senior level now. The Corn Uí Mhuirí is a stepping stone, the current guys are learning there all the time.

“It’s one of the first times that lads are getting to play against guys from outside their own county so it’s a high level.”

Operating at that elevated level was not always the case. When Ó Sé and Griffin were sitting in the classrooms of the old Dingle CBS, the culture was not there of partaking in elite provincial and national football events.

“We were always in the B, I don’t know why because we had talented teams,” says Ó Sé.

“The one year we were in the A, we played Flannan’s and they beat us comprehensively. But I remember watching my brother Tomás with Dingle CBS, there was himself and Aodhán MacGearailt and a few more one year and they actually beat Intermediate School Killorglin in the Sullivan Cup (Kerry championship).

“But they were in the B competition for the All-Ireland series and ISK went on that year and won the Hogan Cup.”

Griffin has had a front-row view of both schools success and minor glories after working with Kerry boss Peter Keane in recent years. He was roped back in this year by Fitzmaurice, who continues to juggle his inter-county commitments with an input to the school side.

Seamus Moynihan and Peter Keane Tommy Griffin and Peter Keane before last year's Munster minor football semi-final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“We wouldn’t be taking this for granted,” says Griffin.

“It’s a great time for Kerry football, underage and schools. There’s two Kerry schools involved again like last year in the final.

“That’s very positive and it definitely has been helping the teams up along. I was with Eamonn for three years and then Ciaran Moran after that. I wasn’t involved last year. I stepped away but Éamonn just asked me back then at the end of last summer as to whether I would get back involved.

“I’ve been with the Kerry minor and U17 teams so there was a fair crossover there between our own schools and teams we’ve been up against. For example there’s five of the Green lads with the Kerry U17 side this year.”

If the bigger picture is bright with the waves of players filtering through, the short-term goal is to get some silverware for the trophy cabinet. PS Chorca Dhuibhne, who stitched together consecutive Munster final wins between 2012 and 2015, are a resurgent force with a team backboned from last year’s All-Ireland junior success.

Tralee CBS have a rich tradition of football which Ó Sé was aware of long before he started teaching in 2004 and beginning his coaching roles by helping out John O’Keeffe.

Yet they’ve been waiting 11 years to have the label of Munster champions attached to them and are aiming to atone for a convincing loss in last year’s final. The presence of so many club-mates in the opposition team adds some spice to the occasion for the An Ghaeltacht man.

“That’s been the case for the last 13, 14 years since I started teaching. I’d know a lot of the lads myself, there’s a bit of banter in that too with the rivalry. You play a game and the following week you’re in training the boys as well.

“It’s great craic but it’ll go out the window for 60-65 minutes on Saturday in trying to get the result. If we could it’d be great for our school because we haven’t won one since 2007. It’s been far too long.”

Kerry playing days behind them, their current coaching positions are still guided by the same established principles.

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