Saturday 24 August 2019

Donnchadh Boyle: 'Jack O'Connor has experience to bring out the best in Kildare'

Consistency remains problem for Lilies but Kerryman would have talent at his disposal

Jack O'Connor, pictured against Kildare during his time as Kerry U-20 manager in 2018, will hope to have same effect as Mick O'Dwyer had on the Lilywhites. Photo: Ray Ryan/Sportsfile
Jack O'Connor, pictured against Kildare during his time as Kerry U-20 manager in 2018, will hope to have same effect as Mick O'Dwyer had on the Lilywhites. Photo: Ray Ryan/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

When news of Cian O'Neill's departure from the Kildare hot seat was confirmed, the bookmakers, as is their wont, were quick with a press release, identifying possible successors.

Those releases are sometimes a decent gauge of the mood locally and, perhaps understandably, former captain Glenn Ryan was installed favourite. The man who was Mick O'Dwyer's on-field general as the county reached the 1998 All-Ireland final looked a logical choice

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Mick O'Dwyer. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Mick O'Dwyer. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Jack O'Connor - the man now in the lead to take the reins and follow in his fellow south Kerryman's footsteps - was a big price in the early betting.

In a brief statement yesterday, Kildare insisted no decision on O'Neill's successor has been made. However, betting has now been suspended and O'Connor's appointment would represent a bold statement. It's ten years since O'Connor guided Kerry to the third of his three All-Ireland wins across two separate stints as boss but he has kept his eye in since.

In 2014 and 2015, he steered the Kerry minors to back-to-back All-Ireland successes, having landed an U-21 All-Ireland in 1998.

More recently, he was in charge of the Kerry U-21s and U-20s. Those stints didn't go as expected with the Kingdom losing to Galway in an All-Ireland semi-final in 2017 before going down at the same stage to Kildare 12 months later, albeit it without their front-line talent of David Clifford.

Returning Daniel Flynn will be a top priority. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Returning Daniel Flynn will be a top priority. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Crucially, from a Kildare point of view, he had a stint working with the Moorefield club in Kildare - where sons Éanna and Cian play - and was on board as they won a Leinster title in 2017.

So if Kildare and O'Connor team up, the county will get a proven winner with, at least, some knowledge of the club scene in the county while for the long trip, the Dromid Pearses man would be walking into a dressing room that has hinted at significant potential in recent years.

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A handful of the current squad have been deemed talented enough to have been professional sportsmen in different codes. Kevin Feely is as an excellent fielder and had spells in professional soccer with Charlton Athletic and Newport County before returning home.

The likes of Paul Cribbin and Paddy Brophy have had stints in the AFL as did Daniel Flynn, who opted out this year. Bringing him back into the fold will be high on the list of whoever succeeds O'Neill. Also high on the agenda will be bringing a level of consistency to their performances.

Under O'Neill, Kildare gained consecutive promotions from Division 3 to Division 1, a first Leinster final in eight years and an appearance in the Super 8s last year. However, living up to their potential on a consistent basis was a struggle. Such an affliction bothered Kildare long before O'Neill's tenure.

Even when Kieran McGeeney brought them to within a whisker of an All-Ireland final in 2010, they suffered a shock Leinster defeat earlier that year to Louth. Two years before that, they lost to Wicklow in Croke Park. Under O'Neill, they went down to Carlow but knocked Mayo out of the All-Ireland race.

And in a typically candid resignation statement, O'Neill admitted that playing to the levels they are capable of was regularly out of reach.

"Frustratingly, we didn't always reach our potential as a group," he said. "As manager, this is my greatest regret and ultimately my responsibility, and this undoubtedly informed my decision to step away from this role."

With the current group already ranked somewhere around the top eight, an underage system that has won three of the last five Leinster minor titles and with an All-Ireland-winning U-20 class of 2018 to further integrate into the set-up, there is plenty to work with for a county hoping to realise its full potential.

'Jacko' could well have the chance to make as big an impact as Micko.

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