Nearly two years of discussion and intrigue come to an end this weekend with the beginning of the Super 8s and the revamped All-Ireland quarter-final stage. Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice spoke of his excitement and anticipation about how it might all pan out when he met the media last Friday ahead of the trip to Croke Park to face Galway in their first encounter of the three game round robin series.
“I think the games will be very even and the fact there is three different venues for the games will make it all the more exciting and a bit romantic,"he says. "I think the championship needed freshening up, and for us July was always a difficult month after winning a Munster Championship when we had no games and didn’t know who we would be playing.”
The Kerry manager is not unduly worried about the provincial winners getting home advantage last. “I think in a situation where you are fighting to make the semi-finals in your last game, then home advantage is a massive thing to have. It’s really up to you to make that home game relevant, and for us it will be the latest we have played at home since the qualifier with Tyrone back in July in 2012.
“I agree that the format isn’t perfect, especially when there is a loophole about Croke Park being both a neutral and home venue, but I think when Padraic Duffy [then GAA director general] spoke about it two years ago, he did say that these would be some of the tweaks that would be eventually need to be addressed.”
Kerry’s last game in the old quarter-final format was against Galway, and Fitzmaurice believes the Connacht champions, now a division one also, will make them their toughest test yet.
“I thought Galway were in a good place last year, only they just didn’t perform against us on the day in Croke Park. They didn’t lose a game in the league, bar the final itself and they have a strong squad now and are well embedded under Kevin Walsh.
“They can play in a variety of different ways, and I think despite their methods being questioned, they are still successful in what they are doing. You need a variety in how you play if you want to succeed.”
Fitzmaurice says his senior squad has "never hidden away from fact we are a work in progress and have plenty to work on".
"We’re still very patient with the new lads and while they are only bursting to get on there in Croke Park, how they do against Galway is still only a small part of their overall development.”