by Colm Keys
Fitzmaurice feels the placement of Walsh to extract maximum benefit for the team will be one of his great challenges, given the range of options he could potentially provide for them.
Naturally he’s preaching patience with a player who has been out of the game for five years. But he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of the Kerins O’Rahillys clubman emulating his father who featured at full-back for Kerry in the eighties after switching from midfield.
“It’s a problem I like having to be honest. That’s the part of the thing that I really enjoy, trying to think up plans or strategies, how you can use players or maximise players or maybe surprise the opposition,” Fitzmaurice acknowledged.
“Definitely Tommy will give us something different. He can play in any number of positions. Like his father, you could try and make a full-back of him for a particular type of forward, say if Michael Cussen was playing full-forward for Cork. You could definitely play him centre-back. And you could play him anywhere from eight up,” Fitzmaurice added.
“It might come down to if we have injuries, if a fella’s form isn’t working. Do you go back to a ‘twin towers’ approach (when he partnered Kieran Donaghy in the full-forward line) which was there in 2008 for periods of games?
“It’s exciting to be thinking about things like that. But we have to be patient. We have to give him time. We can’t be expecting him to be a complete player straight away.”
The benefits of having Walsh back stretch beyond the pitch, Fitzmaurice acknowledged. “Obviously there is all the knowledge he has from a professional environment. At the moment he is coming in, he is one of the players, he is training the same as everyone else, he is feeling his way.
“I suppose he is getting used to having a day job again, which is probably more a shock to the system than anything else, particularly with regards to recovery. I suppose he is just getting used to the way we are doing things. He’s enjoying it so far. He’s getting on fine.
“We are going to be very patient with him. We are not expecting him to be back to where he was in 2009 by the time the second league game comes around,” added Fitzmaurice.
“He’ll have to be patient himself and it’ll be just a case of seeing how he develops as time is going on. It’s going to take him a while.
“It’s one thing to come back from a different game into a club set-up and get back to speed and that but to try and get up to speed in a very competitive league environment straight away, it’s going to be challenging.”
Fitzmaurice feels the “togetherness and spirit” that his Kerry squad showed in 2014 was the best experienced as either player or coach “in terms of it being about the collective and the collective only.”
“I think that was a huge factor in us winning the All-Ireland,” he said. “Different lads did it on different days. Declan O’Sullivan, how selfless he gave his body last year. I used to say to him that he was like Paul McGrath.
“He used to come into training early and would head into the gym. We’d be doing the early parts of the session and he would be inside on an exercise bike pumping it out.
“He would come out and join us for half-an-hour of football if his knees would allow it. If his knees did allow that, he might have to take two or three nights out as a result. When you have a fella doing things like that and it only being about the team, it is huge.
“Countless other fellas fall into this bracket as well, Johnny Buckley and Donnchadh Walsh sacrificed their game. The way Aidan O’Mahony played in games, Killian Young and the way he played against Galway.
“Even though he (Young) was getting criticism, the management group were happy with him. There was a huge amount of selflessness and we’ve to try and preserve that.”
As for Mayo’s visit on Sunday, Fitzmaurice will be without eight of the team that started last year’s All-Ireland final.