Tuesday 15 October 2019

Jack's back: Former Kerry supremo ready to take reins with Lilies

Former Kerry supremo ready to take reins with Lilies as search for consistency and Division 1 place begins

Jack O'Connor poses for a portrait during his unveiling as the new Kildare Football Manager. Photo: Sportsfile
Jack O'Connor poses for a portrait during his unveiling as the new Kildare Football Manager. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

The late great darts commentator Sid Waddell once described an unpredictable thrower as being "about as predictable as a wasp on speed" and the same comment could be levelled at the Kildare footballers in the past decade.

Getting some level of consistency at the highest level is the first major challenge facing new Lilies boss Jack O'Connor but the former Kerry manager - who guided the Kingdom to All-Ireland titles in 2004, '06 and '09 during his two terms in charge - is well aware of their failings.

It looks like O'Connor is taking over at an ideal time with Kildare competing in the inaugural Super 8s under Cian O'Neill last year while also lifting All-Ireland U-20 honours in 2018 but the Dromid Pearses clubman is realistic in his expectations as he starts out with promotion to Division 1 his first target.

"You'd like to think that (the only way is up) but it's never easy. It's very competitive and it's a matter of just getting the panel together and getting them motivated and focused and working hard. You never know where it's going to go to then," O'Connor said at his official unveiling.

Consistent

"There are good footballers in Kildare, for whatever reason they haven't been as consistent as they'd have liked to have been over the last few years. Our aim would be to try to get a bit of consistency into the way they play and try to get back into Division 1. That would be a priority.

"To do anything serious in the championship, you'd want to be playing Division 1 and playing the best teams on a regular basis. That's the only way you'll get better, by challenging yourself against better teams.

"They have shown glimpses of promise over the past few years. Even down in Killarney last year in the Super 8s, they played very well for the first 20 minutes. They have shown glimpses of that promise, it's just a matter of trying to get consistency.

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"To get that consistency, you have to train and get a panel that are used to playing together and create that bit of chemistry, that's where you get the consistency. Kildare probably had too many injuries and too many fellas missing to really be consistent enough."

Ace attacker Daniel Flynn and defender Johnny Byrne were two players who opted out of the Kildare squad for 2019, while Paul Cribbin was a long-term casualty due to injury but O'Connor is keen to have all talent available to him and he is "endeavouring to contact as many fellas as possible" in the coming weeks.

"It was difficult for Kildare, especially last year, they had four or five big players who weren't available for different reasons. It's always difficult then, you take four or five players out of any team and they're going to miss them," O'Connor said.

"We'd be hoping to get some of those back and maybe pick up a couple of extra guys in the club championship, bring in some younger guys as well who may have been showing promise.

"There's potential in Kildare. It's a great footballing county, there's big interest here and there's a big playing population. They probably would see themselves long-term as a Division 1 team."

Before the Kildare call came, the 58-year-old was planning on taking a year out of management having led the Kerry U-20s in recent seasons and been involved in coaching every year since starting out with Páidí Ó Sé and the Kerry U-21s in 1993.

The pull of Kildare - he has been involved with Moorefield in recent seasons where his son Éanna and Cian are based - was strong despite the eight-hour round-trip from St Finian's Bay but he says it's "premature" to talk about the possibility of managing his sons at county level as "there's no panel picked yet".

Should he do so, it would bring back memories of Mick O'Dwyer - who came to Kildare and guided them to the 1998 All-Ireland final, winning Leinster along the way with his son Karl in tow - and he even sought counsel from the Kerry legend before taking the post. O'Dwyer told him of the "very fond memories" of his time in Kildare and said it is a great footballing county and you'll enjoy it up there but with the shadow of Dublin looming over Leinster, O'Connor knows it won't be easy.

"They've frightened off a lot of teams, haven't they? You just have to keep the faith and be confident that one day they'll slip a bit and make it a more level playing field for everyone.

"It's hard to see it happening at the moment because their age profile is pretty young. (Jim) Gavin has done a great job of introducing new players every year but it's up to other teams to try to raise their level and to get up there to compete."

As for managing against Kerry should that prospect arrive: "That's a difficult one... at least it'll show we're making progress if we get that far."

Irish Independent

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