Thursday 19 September 2019

Martin Breheny: '29 years later, can Jack be the new Micko for frustrated Kildare?'

Lilywhites look to Kerry again to advance the next phase of their development

Jack O’Connor’s appointment as Kildare boss comes 29 years to the day since Mick O’Dwyer took the reins. Photo: Sportsfile
Jack O’Connor’s appointment as Kildare boss comes 29 years to the day since Mick O’Dwyer took the reins. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Since there are 29 years between the dates, the coincidence will have gone unnoticed by Kildare supporters, but given what the first one delivered, they will happy with a reminder.

Jack O'Connor's appointment as the county's new football manager on Tuesday night came 29 years to the day since Mick O'Dwyer drove into Lilywhite-land in a move that stunned the GAA world.

Mick O'Dwyer. Photo: Sportsfile
Mick O'Dwyer. Photo: Sportsfile

A year after ending his record-breaking 15 seasons with Kerry, he joined Kildare in 1990, and while it was eight years (and a second term) before they won the Leinster title for the first time since 1956, the success guaranteed O'Dwyer a permanent place in their affections.

Two years later, they won a second Leinster crown, making it the most successful period in the county's history since the 1930s.

Now, Kildare have again turned to Kerry and another All-Ireland-winning boss.

Surprise

While O'Dwyer's arrival was a big surprise, O'Connor's appointment had been anticipated ever since Cian O'Neill resigned in mid-July.

With his sons, Éanna and Cian, playing for Moorefield, O'Connor, who steered Kerry to All-Ireland wins in 2004-2006-2009, has been a familiar sight on the Kildare scene in recent seasons, so he won't be starting with a blank canvas.

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He had an advisory role with Moorefield when they won the last two county titles under Ross Glavin, who will now join him on the Kildare ticket. Tom Cribbin, who worked with O'Neill this year and previously managed Laois and Westmeath, will remain on board.

O'Connor's appointment is being widely welcomed in Kildare, where frustration levels rose after a disappointing season.

Well-fancied to return to Division 1 at the first attempt, they finished fourth behind Meath, Donegal and Fermanagh in Division 2 and later lost by 15 points to Dublin in the Leinster championship and by ten points to Tyrone in the qualifiers.

Despite that, there's a belief in Kildare that the fundamentals are sound and that real progress can be made over the next few seasons. Similar to 1990 when O'Dwyer took over, Kildare are in Division 2 with Cavan, Roscommon, Clare, Fermanagh, Armagh, Laois and Westmeath.

They will be among the favourites to win promotion, although a similar rating counted for nothing this year when they took only seven of a possible 14 points.

In fairness to O'Neill, his hand was weakened by the absence for various reasons of several top-line players, including Daniel Flynn, Paul Cribbin, Kevin Flynn, Paddy Brophy, Johnny Byrne, while Niall Kelly missed the first half of the season.

If O'Connor can get all - or even some - of them back for 2020, it will be a big plus. In addition, players from last year's highly-rated U-20 team will be a season closer to full maturity.

It's 16 years since O'Connor took over in Kerry for the first time, replacing Páidí Ó Sé after the All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Tyrone. The Dromid man was a first-season hit, steering them to All-Ireland success in 2004.

Another title followed in 2006, after which he stepped down. He returned following the departure of Pat O'Shea at the end of 2008 and presided over a third All-Ireland win in 2009. He remained at the helm until the end of 2012, having lost to Dublin in a dramatic ending to the 2011 final.

He later managed Kerry minor and U-21 teams. That was seen as a prelude to a possible third term with the seniors, but it didn't happen.

And with Peter Keane in his first year and challenging for an All-Ireland title, it's unlikely there will be a further opening in Kerry for quite some time.

It left O'Connor with no option but to move outside if he wanted to return to senior management.

The opening in Kildare came at exactly the right time and he now has an opportunity to show that his talents apply away from Kerry too.

Kildare have shipped heavy criticism over recent years, especially for failing to make any real progress in their pursuit of Dublin.

The degree to which they fell behind their powerful neighbours is underlined by results in their last three championship meetings in 2019-2015-2013, which they lost by an average of over 13 points.

That contrasts with 2011, when they lost to Dublin by a point and 2009, when they finished three points behind them in the Leinster final.

New managers usually generate big excitement in Kildare, which remains one of the best-supported counties. O'Connor's arrival will further galvanise the public, who were happy to see O'Neill depart after this year's championship.

He had done a lot of good work and certainly left the scene in a better place than he found it in 2015, but there was a feeling that he had taken the squad as far as he could and that they would benefit from a new approach and message.

Just as it was 29 years ago, the latter will be delivered in a south Kerry accent.

Irish Independent

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