'It did surprise me' - Kildare boss on underage players defecting to Dublin
Kildare boss Cian O'Neill has one of the toughest tasks in Gaelic football ahead of him as he enters into his first championship as an inter-county manager: how to stop Dublin winning their sixth straight Leinster title.
Jim Gavin's men are 1/16 to win yet another provincial crown with O'Neill's men best placed to upset them, according to the bookes, at 14/1.
O'Neill arrived in Kildare as a highly regarded coach, having worked with the Kerry footballers and the Tipperary hurlers and he guided his new team to the Division 3 final during his first league campaign.
However, despite entering the game as huge favourites, a late Clare rally denied O'Neill his first inter-county trophy. His focus now turns to Kildare's championship opener with Wexford, and the possibility of a Leinster final against the All-Ireland champions if they start the championship well.
Masterminding a game plan to stop Dublin is high on the list of priorities for every top inter-county boss but O'Neill says that he first has to plan for other provincial rivals to ensure a clash with the Leinster kingpins eventually materialises.
"I'd love to say that is the case but you simply can't do that," O'Neill told Independent.ie at the launch of the Leinster championship when asked whether he spends all his time trying to create a game plan that could knock Dublin off their stride.
"Kildare were in Division 3 this year for a reason. The key thing is to get our own house in order. In the championship if you look any step further than the next one you could be in trouble. Other county's might get away with that but certainly not Kildare at the moment.
"You need to approach any team like Dublin as a challenge, possibly the greatest challenge of your career. Dublin are that bit further ahead than everyone certainly in Leinster."
Despite acknowledging Dublin's greatness, O'Neill feels that too many people spend too much time concentrating on the advantages that the capital city county enjoy rather than focusing on how they can actually be beaten.
"I think a lot teams spend too much time focusing on what Dublin have and complaining," he says.
"You need to focus on what you have and how you can be better at what you do."
One trend that must worry O'Neill, and other managers in Leinster, is the increasing number of underage players who are declaring for Dublin despite living and playing their club football in neighbouring counties. Obviously if somebody's parents are from Dublin, they are entitled to want to play for the team, and it is up to O'Neill to try and create an atmosphere in Kildare that stems the tide of youngsters who are leaving to play elsewhere.
"It is an individual choice really," O'Neill says.
"It did surprise me this year when I was at the Leinster U21 championship final that you had one player from Kildare on the Dublin panel and one player from Laois. There is no point in saying that it is right or it's wrong. These are young men. Of course we would want all our top players to live in Kildare so they can play their club in Kildare to play with county Kildare. Yes we miss these players and hopefully that might change if Kildare have greater success going forward. Then these players might want to play with Kildare."