The manner of the resignation of Kerry senior football manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice must sound as an alarm bell about the increasing levels of abuse that GAA players and coaches are subjected to.
In what was perhaps not a shock resignation from a football point of view, Fitzmaurice’s admission that he had “a box full of anonymous letters” from the public is worrying.
The Finuge clubman brought the curtain down on a six-year period as manager in the aftermath of his side’s exit from the championship at the quarter-final stage.
While the Kingdom recorded a comprehensive win in the end against Kildare, Monaghan’s victory over Galway in Salthill meant Kerry’s efforts were in vain.
In a frank post-match interview, Fitzmaurice confirmed that he would step down in the hope that his departure would relieve some of pressure and abuse that his squad were subjected to in recent weeks.
“I think a change of voice and a change of direction will be good. I also think by taking me out of the equation, it can remove some of the over-the-top negativity that was coming at the team, which I feel was unfair.”
Fitzmaurice, who delivered All-Ireland success to Kerry in 2014, urged patience ahead of the appointment of a successor as the Munster champions continue to transition young players into the senior squad.
“I’m hoping by someone new coming in, they’ll be given a bit of time and space, and I mean real time and real space and real patience to allow the [younger] lads make mistakes, allow bad performances to happen, without it being the end of the world, and appreciate how hard it is to develop a team.”
“When you are preaching patience about a young group, we didn’t carry that through as a county at all this summer. I think, part of that, was down to the fact that I was there for so long and that, maybe, I was a lightning rod for that negativity and criticism, which, if you are 19 as David [Clifford] is or Sean [O’Shea] that is 20, the other lads Gavin White is 21, Jason Foley is 21, that is not a nice environment to try and develop yourself.
While it is easy point out that Fitzmaurice has won an All-Ireland, six provincial championships and a National League during his tenure, the argument here is not a football one.
With amateur players and managers dedicating their lives in service to their counties, the thought of an inter-county manager receiving hate mail is both absurd and disgusting.
One of the beautiful things about the GAA is that everyone from the elite player with a bag of All-Ireland medals to the partial observer can have an opinion, but these opinions should be kept to analysis of the game.
Sub-standard performances, the apparent lack of a defined game plan and tactical naivety are criticisms that have been levelled at Fitzmaurice but the line must be drawn between analysis and abuse.
If we are to go down the road of abusing managers to the point that they see no other option but remove themselves from the sideline,we are on the road to something like the environment that we see in professional soccer.
The fact that Fitzmaurice has spent 17 of the last 21 years of his life in service to Kerry as either a player or a manager must make him wonder how it has come to this.
For the fanatics of the GAA, this must be a wake up call and bring abut a realisation of the lines that cannot be crossed.
Senior columnist for GAA Wrap.