'You set your vision, you set your goals according to that, you get the players to believe'
McGeeney sure Lilies can take next step but admits he may not be there when they do
Published 15/05/2013 | 05:00
"I suppose it's just going back to the old clichés, the darkest hour is just before the dawn" – Kieran McGeeney on his 2013 championship hopes for Kildare.
"They only have two since 1956, so a third one would be nice. That is about as short and succinct as I can put it," he says.
It's McGeeney's 'subtle' way of letting his audience know that the expectation that follows Kildare around should have a perspective.
The Lilies are constantly referenced as 'contenders', but history has a funny habit of repeating itself and, until they can write their next successful chapter, that same conundrum will exist.
"It is tough when you are trying to change a culture, a mindset. Although Kildare have fantastic footballers and a fantastic football tradition, results will prove otherwise with regards to inter-county structure," says McGeeney.
"They have only two Leinster titles in the last 40/50 years. You are fighting against that, but you have a group of players who are well capable of doing that and more.
"But it is about getting them over that particular line."
Ahead of the Leinster football championship, launched in Croke Park yesterday, McGeeney is convinced that, despite the repeated setbacks they have suffered, the players he has assembled will have their time in the sun "soon enough".
"I am hoping that I will be part of that, but it may not be," he concedes.
The heat has gone off Kildare and maybe that's no bad thing for them.
This time last year, a difficult transfer business was hot and heavy, ill financial winds were blowing around the county and with a perception that Dublin, for once, may be sated in Leinster, it felt like Kildare's time had come.
But two bad defeats, first to Meath in Leinster and then Cork in an All-Ireland quarter-final, raised doubts about their capacity to win big games.
"I actually thought last year was one of our strongest years, apart from the Cork game. It was the first year we were quite comfortable in the league (Division 2)," says McGeeney.
"The Meath game came down to the last five minutes, as all our games against Meath have, except this time Meath took the right way, we took the wrong way.
"Then the back-door thing again, we were very, very comfortable. I know the Limerick game was a bit ... but we had enough chances in that too and in extra-time pulled away.
"Then we came up against a strong team (Cork) and those cracks we'd been maybe papering over were kicked wide open.
"From a management point of view, you have to look at it. Maybe there were things I was looking at, that I was convincing myself weren't true, that actually were true. They're not easy to take but we took stock of them.
"It's not easy admitting your mistakes, especially when sometimes your ego can take over, but that's what you have to do – you have to have that open type of mindset and hopefully learn all the time.
"I've made loads of mistakes, but that's part and parcel of learning."
McGeeney took stock of his own future in the county too, but it just wasn't in him to say 'I quit'.
"I suppose my own personality is that I don't tend to walk away from things," he acknowledges.
He is happy, though, that even without the shiny piece of silverware that would put a circle neatly around things, they can exist at high altitude.
"I think Kildare have reached a level of consistency now that they never had," he argues.
"We've struggled in some of the big games and that could be down to me. You do look at these things. But the players wanted me back and I said 'fair enough'.
"So I just went and had a look at different things, decided to change a few things about. We were able to do that in terms of the players. I'd been watching a lot of these players coming through over the last couple of years and I was keen to give them a chance, and it's worked out to date.
"Whether it works in the summer remains to be seen but these boys will play for Kildare and they will do well for Kildare."
McGeeney doesn't dispute that their epic 2011 All-Ireland quarter-final with Donegal that went to extra-time was a significant fork in the road for both teams.
Two young managers preparing teams in distinct ways. That night they battled for the belief to go on. One did, the other has run to a stand-still since. High stakes.
"One team gets it. If you look at the plaudits that Jim (McGuinness) would be getting for that, but belief is a big part of that. I believe in all the things Jim believes in. You set your vision, you set your goals according to that, you get the players to believe," says McGeeney.
"It doesn't even matter if it's wrong – people have talked about the likes of Mick O'Dwyer and his training. Everybody has different opinions on what's right and what's wrong. But ultimately when you get a team to believe what you're doing is right, it is right."
Sometimes he draws on his own playing experiences to fortify the belief that the pathway they are on in Kildare will eventually lead to a clearing.
"It took me 10 years to win one thing (Ulster title) – and then 13 years to win ultimately what you were looking for," he says. "We used to walk around thinking we were pretty good at football too, and Brian McAlinden came in and showed us actually what training was – we realised that we weren't actually training hard.
"We thought we were, but he definitely showed us that we weren't.
"He brought us to a point too, won the Ulster championship from the preliminary round, which hadn't been done in a long time, won two back-to-back and got beaten then in the quarter-final by Galway.
"I remember standing in that tunnel down there, being asked after the Galway game, 'Was that it?' ... and I was thinking to myself 'It was, that was it.'
"And I suppose it's just going back to the old clichés, the darkest hour is before the dawn.
"And you just have to tell these fellas to keep on pushing, and hopefully some day it will come for them."