McGeeney laying solid foundations for Kildare future
Five and a half years on, Kieran McGeeney could surely never have imagined himself being so embedded in the workings of Kildare GAA.
What was a first tentative step into the world of inter-county management has become a project that now clearly consumes him.
On Monday night, as the county's first new sponsor for more than two decades was unveiled in Newbridge, it became apparent in the acknowledgment speeches that he had sat at the negotiating table with members of the county's Supporters Club to get a deal over the line in recent weeks.
Such level of involvement in commercial matters rarely extends to the portfolio of a senior team manager but the architects of the three-year deal, estimated to be worth in the region of €300,000, clearly felt that his inclusion had strong merits.
He is, he explains, the type of person who tends to "drop both feet in" and if called to duty to a negotiating table like it then he's more than happy to oblige.
"I would always feel that's my nature," he said. "I love my own club Mullaghbawn but when I moved to Na Fianna (Dublin) you drop both feet in. I don't know, maybe I'm that type of person when it comes to football. When you get into trenches with people it's very hard not to back them the whole way."
His responsibility in the county, he feels, extends to the future as much as it does to the present.
"I suppose it's my own background with the Sports Council (where he worked as a youth sports executive in the early part of the last decade).
"Whether people believe it or not, the development work in counties is very important too. Kildare are lucky, there are a lot of very good people working at developmental level and it's starting to bear fruit. There are a lot of players coming through – really, really top-class players. That's what's important.
"Obviously I want to win things with Kildare as well but it's just as important to make sure that what you leave behind is stronger than what you took. I think we're definitely going down that road."
Kildare seems to absorb him now at every level. When the issues of troubled finances came to the surface last year he batted hard for them at every opportunity, again hardly the domain of the 'outside' manager. Which is one of the reasons why he now readily acknowledges 2012 as an " extremely draining" season.
"Whether unfairly or fairly, there was a lot of publicity over finances but a lot of counties are in the same boat or in worse positions. You can't cry about it. You just get on and do what you can to turn it around," he reflected. "The last six or seven months have shown that.
"It's heading in the right direction. It's only the start of it. There is still a lot of work to be done but you try to keep the balance between that there (sponsorship) and the football team.
"I've a lot of friends there (in Kildare) for sure but ultimately I'm still there for the same reason. I want to try and bring them success and although people will point out that we haven't won anything – and that's true – I do think we have been relatively successful in what we've been trying to achieve."
McGeeney says business experiences have taught him to trust good people more than great ideas.
Last year he invested in Slender Choice, a food company set up by a first cousin that provides low-fat, freshly cooked ready meals, without losing the traditional taste, to many of the country's biggest stores.
"She's passionate about what she's trying to do, she's a great worker, all those things tick the right boxes for me.
"You back people. I have learned the hard way in the past that ideas can be great but if the people aren't right? It's like having a talented footballer. If he hasn't the right attitude, sure what's driving him? You can have an average footballer with fantastic drive he'll probably be one of your best."
The analysis of last year's heavy All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Cork now feels like a cathartic moment for him, one that gave him the impetus to change things around him.
"It showed me that a lot of things that we were doing were wrong," he said. "The last couple of years we probably could and should have won every game in that quarter-final stage. We made too many mistakes against a good team on that particular day, especially in the first 10 minutes. We gave them too much of a start, between missing free-kicks and handing them goals.
"You can't do that against quality teams and maybe it drove home a few things about myself as a manager that things that I was looking at and maybe convinced myself about weren't actually true."
The change in personnel has seen his sidekick for the previous five years, Niall Carew, leave after originally agreeing to stay on and former Wexford manager Jason Ryan come in to join another new selector, Damien Hendy, in the back-room.
But the biggest change has been the profile of playing personnel that now constitutes a squad. McGeeney has sought a different type of player, much younger with perhaps more football nous about them.
It's a level of change that suggests that he may be willing to remain beyond a sixth season in charge, change that comes attached with the caution for more patience.
"This year may not be as lucrative as people want but it's important that a new type of player comes together in Kildare to make sure that when we get to those positions again we try not to make the same mistakes," he said. "Because if you are making the same mistakes over and over again you have to really look at yourself.
"Yes there are good arguments there that we haven't got a run of luck but there are also arguments there that we shouldn't have needed luck in a lot of those circumstances."
McGeeney acknowledges that he would like to be much further down the line in terms of tangible success than they are right now.
"For me as a manager you would like something but it takes time, no matter what team it is. Even Donegal, what they have done in the last two years is exceptional but they were knocking on the door for Ulster finals and National League finals before that. Similar with Tyrone and Mickey Harte. I would still like to have done it quicker and maybe someone else can or will do it."
But whether success is an imperative this year, it's a question he personally finds very hard to answer.
"This is going to be a very big year for us," he said. "Look at the next three weeks, we're playing the last three All-Ireland champions three weeks in a row. Then you get a break and you're playing Kerry.
"That's fantastic because it's at this level that we tend to slip up. We can learn more about ourselves in this company. But people have to realise that it's the high end of the market we're in now. You can't make those mistakes over and over again and live with these people."
He hints that as long as the players in Kildare want him, he'd find it hard to walk away.
"That (future after 2013) won't be my choice. We all have to look at that at the end of the year," he said. "Ultimately a manager's position is maintained by the players.
"The County Board, obviously, too. When the players believe that you are the person to lead them then you have a place but when they don't, you don't really. If you feel you have got them to a position where you can't give any more, all of those factors combine."