Gap from Lilies to top teams 'significant', admits O'Neill
Published 15/10/2015 | 02:30
Down through the years, Cian O'Neill reckons there was 10-15 approaches from various counties enquiring as to whether he'd be interested in being their manager.
Some of them were more formal than others. None of them ever came close to getting off the ground.
Then there was Kildare's approach. From the outside looking in, it looks like the heart won out over his head. Living and working in Cork doesn't seem to make for the ideal base to manage Kildare.
"But it's home. And that's what counted, even more than being part of the "special" set-up in Kerry.
"In the last four years - I left Tipp in 2011 - there has probably been 10 to 15 inter-county jobs offered that I never even entertained because it just didn't feel right for me," O'Neill revealed at the announcement that Brady Family Ham has renewed its sponsorship with the county for another three years.
"I suppose going home to Kildare is the perfect fit and if this wasn't an option you can be sure I would still be down with Kerry.
"I just felt going home, it was probably the right time for me.
"There were a lot of mitigating factors that made the decision a bit easier. If it had come after year one or year two with Kerry it might have been a different situation, because we were still building towards something special there."
O'Neill is optimistic about Kildare's prospects, but also realistic.
There's an acceptance that the seven-goal capitulation to Kerry will have left its mark. Watching it unfold, he says he felt nothing. But afterwards?
"It was sad really because I don't think players of any level, let alone my own county, deserve that.
"100pc, there's no doubt (those defeats leave their mark)
"Especially if it happens in the Championship like it did against Dublin initially, I'm sure there was a lot of soul-searching in that Kildare dressing room. In fairness, they did come out and put in a huge performance against Cork.
"But when it happens in the last match of the season, be it the qualifiers or any other knockout stage, there's no comeback. There's no next big hurdle to look forward to. It's a long, lingering wait throughout the winter months."
There's no attempt to hide from the fact that Kildare are well off the pace. But then so are several others.
"I think the gap is quite significant, if I'm being honest," he said. "That's not just with Kildare. Kerry, Dublin, Mayo will be very competitive again next year, I think those three teams in particular are somewhat further ahead.
"I would almost look at it as three tiers, some people might say four.
"You'd have those three, then you'd have the likes of Tyrone, Donegal, Cork who are probably that little bit slightly off it at the moment, but who have all challenged in recent years.
"I think it's quite a drop then to the rest."
Still, O'Neill feels that Kildare have the raw ingredients.
"Having said that I don't think it needs to be a ten-year wait or détente before you bring a team from that third (tier) to the second," he said.
"Look at the great work Jim did with Donegal, that was quite meteoric in terms of what was achieved in three years.
"And it is possible if you bring the right culture and the right mindset.
"I think the players are there in Kildare, I think the younger players coming through are there.
"We need to sit down as a management and review the panel but there will always be great footballers in Kildare.
"It's about just creating the right environment for them to flourish, to excel and reach their potential. That will be the biggest challenge."