Monday 23 September 2019

Lilies can still bloom despite relegation - O'Neill

Kildare manager Cian O’Neill is determined to remain optimistic after a disappointing league campaign. Photo: Sportsfile
Kildare manager Cian O’Neill is determined to remain optimistic after a disappointing league campaign. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Despite seven defeats from seven in the league and a quick return to Division 2, Cian O'Neill is keeping the good side out.

The Kildare manager is disappointed but not despondent about how the league went. Relegation was confirmed in the penultimate round defeat to Kerry but he insists on being positive.

There was, he points out, games they could have won and patches where they looked at home in top flight. They led Dublin at the interval only to be blown away by a power surge in the second half. They lost to Monaghan, Tyrone and Donegal by an aggregate of four points. To keep focusing on the good stuff is the only way he knows how.

"People say, 'Jesus you are being very positive after these defeats' but what do you want to say to a dressing room of 35 players? 'Lads, we're crap we are not good enough what are we doing here?'" he asks.

"You have to look at the positives. What we took from the Dublin game, and I think every team in the country will admit to this, if you drop your concentration against a team like Dublin for even 30 seconds you could be punished. That was the lesson from that match.


"In the other matches it was if you don't take the opportunities when they present themselves (you'll lose) because in those matches we were shooting between 38-42pc and that's not the level you need to be at to be competing.

"If we can up that to even 50pc it could have been the difference. We're always looking for those positives and that's why we were in a good place going in every Tuesday to training, knowing we were competing. Mayo was a let-down but we put in a decent performance in Tralee in the league against Kerry and we were saying we were not that far away."

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That defeat to Kerry in Tralee confirmed the their relegation and also sparked the rumour mill into overdrive. O'Neill made sweeping changes to the team for the final round game against Galway, prompting speculation the players were dropped for a breach of discipline.

"We can't control what is said and what rumours are. Jesus I could write a book on all the things, and I don't mean controversial things … (it's more) who is injured who is not. Who played for their club or didn't.

"We knew that night we were relegated so we agreed as management and players that we were going to have a couple of drinks and we did that. And we had the hotel organised the whole lot literally after the match. We didn't plan for it because we wanted to win that match and we were still in a shout of staying up if we had to have won that match. These things grow legs but it didn't impact the group or the squad."

Kildare face a Carlow side on the crest of a wave after their promotion from Division 4 and a championship win over Louth. There's a sense Kildare might be vulnerable but are they carrying any scars from that league campaign?

"I can honestly say 'no'. There was a part of the league where definitely, we were a little bit shook. And that was after the Mayo match. Because we were very competitive and confident in what we were doing and in the first four matches and we were close. But that was a match where we just didn't perform.

"And that was an accumulation of defeat, defeat, defeat. Just catching up on the guys. But then we regrouped well for the Kerry match - we were competitive, just not good enough on the night.

"So I don't think so. I think the big thing was to have that big break between the league and the championship. Most counties have it anyway. Just to give the players ten days off. Management needed it, too. I needed it. The backroom needed it. We came back really fresh. And that's a credit to the players. We talked about it being a new season rather than it being part two of the season. I think we needed to get that mindset. That this is literally a pre-season now for the new season.

"And by doing that, we made the negativity and the disappointment of the league go away, if you like. And the players just really focused on what we had to do.

"Which was really eight weeks of hard work, sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears. And they did that. They played a couple of challenge matches We won all of our challenge matches.

"So there is a bit of confidence going back into the camp again because everyone - thankfully - is pulling in the right direction.

"So at this stage, the league is well and truly behind us. We're just really looking forward to the championship."

Irish Independent

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