O'Connor hoping qualifier 'buzz' can help Lilies bloom
Kildare are long regarded as the High Kings of the qualifiers and Tomas O'Connor believes their phenomenal back-door record will stand to them in Newry on Sunday.
The Lilywhites certainly had an extraordinary qualifier record under previous manager Kieran McGeeney.
Before he arrived they had played 10 qualifiers and lost seven of them, but in the first five years of his management they went unbeaten in 15 back-door matches.
Their loss to Tyrone last year was their first in six years and ended a qualifier record that now reads: P17, W15, D1, L1.
But O'Connor is hopeful that their remarkable run will stand to Jason Ryan's new-look team as they face the difficult trip to the Marshes to take on Down.
"There are a lot of guys in the team with a lot of experience in how to win qualifier games and take advantage of teams who are feeling sorry for themselves. If you pick yourself up well, you can travel fairly well in the qualifiers," he said.
"It has that extra buzz about it – you are playing teams that you might not normally play much, so you could be dragged anywhere over the country."
The fact that this year's second round is dragging Kildare across the border to meet the team that ended their All-Ireland dream back in 2010 is not lost on O'Connor, but he says that famous game at Croke Park has no relevance now.
Down won that game by two points to qualify for their first All-Ireland final since 1994, but it was an encounter full of incident.
Benny Coulter got a goal that should have been disallowed for a 'square ball' and the Mournemen kicked on and had a seven-point lead at one point in the game.
Eamon Callaghan – who hit a rocket off the post earlier – threw Kildare a lifeline with a late goal and points from Hugh Lynch, Johnny Doyle and David Lyons cut the deficit to two points before Rob Kelly's last-gasp rasper famously came back off the crossbar.
"It only feels like yesterday," recalled O'Connor who came off the bench for Lynch that day. "We could have won it and been in an All-Ireland final, it's mad. But the Down team we played in 2010, for them and for us, is completely different now.
"There won't be a huge amount of lads who would have played in those games. The lads who were there will want revenge and it's a whole new experience for the younger lads.
"Down have lost some crucial players (since), but it doesn't matter, it's a championship game so it's going to be tough. We're just worried about ourselves."
Lifting their own spirits after that Leinster semi-final loss is an equally big challenge. "We want to get that Meath game out of our heads and beat Down.
"We set very high standards for ourselves and it's very disappointing when you don't meet them," the Clane forward said.
"Every year you go out, you try something different or try to improve somehow, so there is that extra inch we are not getting. It can be extremely disappointing, but I think we're starting fresh again.
"People will be negative and disappointed when the team they've supported all year loses a big game like that. Of course it'll be negative, but they'll follow us to Newry again."
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