O'Connor: U-21 the toughest grade to be a manager
Published 09/03/2016 | 02:30
Jack O'Connor believes managing at U-21 level is the "toughest of them all" given the various demands on players in that age group.
O'Connor joined the elite group of managers to have won All-Irelands at minor, U-21 and senior level when he steered Kerry's U-18s to the Tom Markham Cup in 2014.
He is currently in his second stint as Kingdom U-21 boss and has no doubt that managing those players is the most challenging as they have "fellas coming at them from all angles".
"What I've found is that the club scene basically went for 13 months this year. It just really affected preparations, but there isn't a whole lot we can do about it," said O'Connor ahead of Tipperary's visit to Austin Stack Park tonight.
"I would say it's the toughest of them all. Compared to minor management, where the thing is much more structured and stream-lined, there's fellas coming at these guys from all angles.
"You've colleges and clubs and bits and pieces of everything.It's a tough assignment. We had the minors for two years and we felt that the next challenge was to try and develop that group, because a lot of players can fall off after minor.
"It's a critical age. Fellas can fall off for one reason or another. They're away from home, they're going to college, their lifestyle changes. It's a very challenging age group."
Tipp reached the U-21 All-Ireland final last year but have lost a number of key performers from that team. And, given that the Kingdom have won the last two All-Ireland minor titles, they are strong favourites to progress.
However, their record at this grade is poor - they haven't won a Munster title since 2008 or even a game in the competition in four years.
"Kerry have nothing much to write home about at this age group for the last few years. Our ambition is just to win a game, because the bottom line is if you win a couple of games you keep the lads together for an extra few weeks which would help their development," added O'Connor.
"One of the problems over the last couple of years and part of the reason U-21s haven't made the breakthrough to the Kerry panel is because they haven't had a run at U-21 level.
"(Tipperary) are physically very big. They're the current Munster champions and they've won two Munster titles since Kerry won their last one.
"We're under no illusions. We're certainly not looking beyond Tipperary, because they're going to be very competitive. Tipperary football is no longer the poor relation and it hasn't been for quite a while."