O'Neill: the Kerry connection

SPEAKING to The Kerryman the Irish boss said he was not too sure of what to expect when he came to Kerry, but he said he was overwhelmed with the welcome he received and he was hugely impressed with the popularity soccer was enjoying in the county.

"My only visit to Kerry prior to this was to Dingle, but John Delaney had filled me in on the state of the game in the county. People may not know it, but I have a Kerry connection as my sister is married to a Listowel man, Gary McMahon.

"My first thoughts about Kerry is that it is a Gaelic football stronghold and I remember in my youth when my brothers Gerry and Leo played gaelic football with Derry and we had a great respect for Kerry and they had some great footballers.

"For that reason I thought that soccer would not be so strong in the county and it pleases me that it is going so well. I am particularly impressed with its strength at grassroots level and I can see that there are a lot of people doing great work for this to happen.

"What stands out in this visit for me is that there is an invisible determination by a group of dedicated people who seem to have a great camaraderie with each other. It takes people to work hard to make things happen and that is what I have noticed here in Kerry, and it is rubbing off on the young lads in the county which is great.

"It was no hardship for me to come to Kerry and I was delighted to see the enthusiasm shown by young lads in Castleisland when I presented them with medals earlier in the day. I was delighted this evening to get a chance to meet young Tralee lad Jesse Stafford Lacey who has just captained the Republic of Ireland team that played Holland in an International under 16 friendly during the week.

"I have been told he is a young player to watch out for and I am sure more young Kerry players will be coming through to International prominence in the years ahead. I will be always looking for young players coming up through the ranks and who knows, maybe a Kerry player will make it to the Irish senior team some time in the future."

Asked about Ireland's chances in the Euro 2016 he said they are in a very strong group and it could go down to the very last series of games before the two qualifiers will be known.

"Of course Germany will be tipped to win the group but when we meet them we won't be giving them the points and will make them work hard to get them. There will be a sense of Celticness, if that word exists, when we meet Scotland and these will be tough games as they players will know each other fairly well.

"Poland and Georgia will also be hard to get points from so no game will be easy in the group. Our main aim will be to try and win as many home games as possible and take what we get in the away fixtures.

"I am only three or four months in the job, but I am looking forward to the challenge ahead. Roy Keane and myself are in close contact with League of Ireland managers and if they think there is a player we should look at we will take the opportunity to do so. The same applies cross-channel.

"There is no quick fix to getting back to the memorable days when the Irish team was going so well and practically winning all their home games but we will do our best to try and get us qualification for the big tournaments in the time ahead and, of course, Euro 2016 is now our priority."

Martin O'Neill played Gaelic football with his local club Kildea and with Derry at underage level. His father was a founder member of the local GAA club Padraig Pearse Kildea. While at St Malacy's College in Belfast he made the headlines when he was deemed to have broken the GAA's prohibition of Gaelic footballers playing foreign sports.

When they reached the 1970 McRory Cup final the Antrim GAA County Board refused to allow the game to be played at Casement Park and the colleges involved switched the venue to Tyrone to enable him to play. They won the final.


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