Eamonn Fitzmaurice took the role as boss of the Kerry senior football side despite feeling there may have been some unfinished business with the under-21 side he managed until the time of his new appointment.
The Lixnaw native gave the decision considerable thought but the opportunity to manage the country’s most successful inter-county senior football side proved too great to turn down.
Fitzmaurice has plans for the future of the side and he spoke at length to fellow-Kerryman and RTÉ sports presenter Joe Stack.
Fitzmaurice said: “There was a lot of factors in my decision. The fact I was involved with the Kerry U-21 team and they’re a great bunch of lads and we did a good bit of work with them last year and there’s a lot of the lads from last year’s panel underage again this year and we felt maybe there was a bit of unfinished business there. So that was certainly a big factor against taking the bigger job.
“Also, I’ve played with a lot of the lads [in the senior side] and I’ve friends in the team and what have you, but I weighed all that up and, look, I don’t think you get these kind of opportunities in life too often.
“To get asked to be the manager of Kerry certainly was a big honour for myself so, after weighing everything up, I decided I’d go for it.”
“To get asked to be the manager of Kerry certainly was a big honour for myself" - Eamonn Fitzmaurice
While Fitzmaurice primarily wanted the decision to be a personal one, he took the advice of close family and of previous incumbent Jack O’Connor, whose boots he will try to fill.
He continued: “I spoke to Jack, I spoke to my wife, Tina, and I spoke to my family. Other than that I kept it fairly tight, really, because I needed time on my own to make the decision.
“Jack definitely gave me a lot of very good advice, and he was enthusiastic and he felt that I should definitely go for it. He felt that there was never a perfect time and he feels that I have the tools to do a decent job.”
While rumours of Kerry’s demise is surely premature, Fitzmaurice realises that a number of the senior players have been around for a long time and may now be considering their positions.
However, the nascent senior boss is not about to race headlong into the role, wielding an axe to the team which, by the county’s standards, has underachieved this year.
As long as the appetite is there and the players are able to match up to the physical demands of the game, Fitzmaurice knows no reason why they should not remain part of the squad and under consideration for their places in the team.
“I’m going to have to make changes, of course, over the couple of years I’ll be involved but a lot of those lads they have a lot of mileage up on the clock. But all of them certainly are well capable, physically, of going on for another year or two, provided they have the appetite for it," added Fitzmaurice.
“I think we saw with Donegal last weekend, with the level they’re after taking the game to, so all those lads will be looking on and reflecting but I’d be confident most, if not all of them, will certainly stay play on.
“I’m not going to be making changes for the sake of making changes. There’s a lot of good young lads coming through. Some of those under-21 lads I had last year certainly will be ready to have a cut of it.
“There was some good lads playing with the Kerry juniors that beat Mayo in the All-Ireland final last Saturday so there is some talent coming through and, I suppose, the big challenge for me and my management team - when I put it in place - will be to get the balance right between keeping on some of the older lads and bringing through some young blood as well.”
But the tradition of the county dictates that mediocrity will not be accepted and another year away from the latter stages of the All-Ireland will be deemed a failure for a county that prides itself on competing year on year.
Fitzmaurice went on: “Like I said, Kerry people are demanding with regard to their football. They’re very passionate about football down here and it’s very important to us so, ultimately, you’re going to be measured by the success or the lack of success that you have.
“Personally speaking, I still think that there’s plenty left in the tank and we’ll have to try and build on the players that are there and, like I said, get the balance right between bringing through some of the new young lads as well.”
Fitzmaurice understands the importance of the backroom team he will be required to assemble, and thus he is taking his time in making those appointments.
“I just got permission last night from the County Board to appoint my own backroom team so I have a bit of time on my hands," he said.
"The fact that Kerry were beaten a bit earlier than usual this year - in the quarter-final stage - it gives me a bit of time to make sure a get a very good backroom team around me because, for any manager it’s very important but particularly for someone like myself, who’d be young and lacking experience, it’s important to have very good people around me.”
Seldom has there been such competition for ultimate honours in senior football, and Fitzmaurice recognises the threat of the emerging sides, such as Donegal, which will push the standard of football to even greater heights.
Putting Kerry back on the top of that particular tree is the remit of the new boss and he acknowledges the county’s current status but he also acknowledges that maintaining the traditions of the Kingdom must be part and parcel of that development.
“At the moment we were beaten in the last eight, so we’re still in the top eight teams in the country. Donegal are into the final, Mayo and Dublin are still left, Cork were beaten in the semi-finals, so they’re all obviously ahead of us in the pecking order at the moment.
“I think Dublin last year and Donegal this year have taken the game to a new level of physicality and athleticism and so it’ll be up to us to match that while, at the same time, maintaining the Kerry traditions, if we can.”