All-Ireland Super 8s
Monaghan v Kerry
Sunday, July 22 at 4pm
Whenever Kerry lose in Croke Park we tend to have a bit of a meltdown. Every big defeat is greeted with, “That was as bad as I’ve seen them…” and, lately, “Fitzmaurice has to go.” We expect Kerry to win. If they don’t win we expect them to at least play good football.
On Sunday, we got neither.
Were our expectations too high? We hammered a weak Clare team, we hammered a weak Cork team and then we lost by three points to the Connacht champions in a game that wasn’t even knockout. It’s hardly the end of the world but judging by the immediate reaction you’d swear we got dumped out of the championship by London or someone. I’m not sure what the big fuss was when Páidí ó Sé called us animals. We are animals.
But that’s part of what makes Kerry football so special in the first place. Nothing less than the best is accepted from anyone at any level. If we were the type of supporters who were more rational and our attitude was, “Sure, look, you can’t win them all,” how many All-Irelands would we have? The players and management are held to the highest possible standards and they come in for a lot of criticism. But, realistically, would they have it any other way?
Speaking after the Galway game, Eamonn Fitzmaurice said Galway were “a bit further down the road” than this Kerry team and although that’s jarring to hear as Kerry fan, he has a point. This is a very young and inexperienced team. But the fact of the matter is that regardless of the average age of the squad, Kerry supporters expect success. If losing badly to the likes of Mayo and Dublin is considered a failure, it’s only natural that losing to Galway has been met with such dismay.
Fitzmaurice has been criticised in certain quarters for not bringing on Donaghy and Darran O’Sullivan on Sunday. I can see the merit in trying something different (e.g. lumping the ball into Donaghy) but there has to be better back-up plans than that. Kerry started with Kevin McCarthy, Seán O’Shea, Stephen O’Brien, David Clifford, Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue. That’s an unreal forward line. Micheál Burns, who has done well in his debut season, was introduced after 52 minutes.
Then you’re looking at Donnchadh Walsh and Barry John Keane (both of whom came on) and Donaghy and Darran (who were presumably next in line). After that initial starting six plus Burns, are those the four next best forwards in the county at the moment? The four of them have been great servants for Kerry but they have an average age of 32 (to be fair to Barry John, he’s still only 28).
Fitzmaurice evidently hasn’t been suitably impressed with the other options at his disposal and he’s looking at these players week in, week out. If he’s right and they really are the best back-ups we have, maybe Kerry are further away from an All-Ireland than we’d like to believe.
Sunday’s game against Monaghan is a huge test for this Kerry side. For many of the players on show it will be the biggest game of their careers to date and there will be massive amount of pressure on their young shoulders. If they lose, Kerry will (more than likely) be out of the championship with the prospect of a dead rubber above in the Fitzgerald Stadium on the August bank holiday weekend. It almost doesn’t bear thinking about.
For Fitzmaurice, meanwhile, defeat would almost certainly signal the end of his six-year reign as Kerry manager.
There’s a lot on the line in Clones on Sunday but I’m sure Kerry will approach it as an opportunity. Victory in such an intimidating environment and with so much at stake could be the making of their season, and it could set them up nicely for a run at the semi-final. And it might just save their manager’s job.
Prediction: Kerry by two