We need to reconnect with the fans, admits Kildare coach Sweeney
Kildare footballers need to rediscover a lost connection with their supporters in 2017, new coach Ronan Sweeney has admitted.
Sweeney, who has spent two years with Waterford and two more with Sligo in a similar capacity under manager Niall Carew, has accepted an invitation to link up with Cian O'Neill, who has had to replace his entire management team after Brian Murphy, Padraig Brennan and Brian Flanagan stepped away.
Sweeney still one of the best club footballers in Kildare and a pillar of Kieran McGeeney's team in the early years, has acknowledged the huge turnover of players since that time.
But getting the supporters back onside needs to be prioritised.
Sweeney was speaking on the GAA/GPA All-Star tour to the Middle East, where he is representing the Gaelic Players Association.
"I don't know what happened in Kildare. I don't know what the reason was, but over the last number of years, whether it was the way McGeeney left or just the disappointing results in the championship after that, the supporters in Kildare have kind of detached a little bit from the team," he reflected.
"The challenge now is try to get back winning, get back winning big matches and start reconnecting with the supporters. Because there are no better supporters than Kildare when it comes to the team progressing."
Sweeney refutes the perception that there's a lack of leadership among their playing group.
"It's easy to say that, but I don't agree 100pc - maybe looking from the outside in you can say that. But when you actually go in, and I'm only in there a couple of weeks, you can see that there are fellas that are well capable of leading.
"This is a massive year for Kildare with the games that are coming up in Division 2 in particular. The first two games are Meath and Cork. It's a really good opportunity to start making that step up."
Some particularly brutal beatings from Dublin in league and championship may have left scars on Kildare personnel but Sweeney feels there is a new generation who have no experience of that.
"There is no hiding from the results," he said. "They have been horrendous over the last couple of meetings. All I can say is this team is extremely young.
"Most of them have won U-21 and minor championships coming up the grades. They wouldn't have the same, I don't know whether is it stigma or whatever or experiences against Dublin senior teams that some of the other guys have had over the last couple of years.
"So, that's something that we'd really be hoping for, that experience at underage of winning championships and having medals in the changing-room is going to bring them on."
Only a handful of players remain from that spell from 2008-12 when Kildare reached five successive All-Ireland quarter-finals.
Eoghan O'Flaherty has stepped away unexpectedly but Sean Hurley has returned from AFL and is joining the squad.
Sweeney would love to see Paddy Brophy return too.
"You are really regretting that he went, just from a selfish (Kildare) point of view. From the human side of it, all the best to him," he said.
"He was a great player and he is a great player, but a huge loss to us."