Thursday 18 January 2018

'You want to win no matter who you are playing'

Ronan Sweeney has taken on a new role with Waterford but his club duty is far from over, writes Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

In the space of just a couple of months, Ronan Sweeney went from Kildare footballer to retired inter-county player to Waterford selector, while still togging out for his club Moorefield. Although the retirement was planned after a couple of years of consistent injuries, jumping in with Waterford was not.

"I didn't intend doing anything for a while anyway, after I finished up," explains Sweeney.

"I was just thinking of spending more time at home and playing with the club. Then Niall Carew rang and asked me would I get involved. I asked the wife and she was all for it so I went for it."

Management was something that Sweeney associated with the future, perhaps a few years down the track, but Waterford was too good an opportunity to let pass by.

Plus he had an association with the Déise from his college days. He spent four years there studying architecture, he knows the club scene and how things operate so it wasn't too daunting a challenge.

"It's an inter-county job, a chance to work with players who are ambitious and want to be the best they can be. And they had a decent enough end to the season, they should have beaten Galway. I'm really looking forward to starting on the training pitch in December and hopefully helping them progress."

Work has commenced with the squad already. Sweeney has spent a lot of time with Carew deciding on what approach to take and also on a plan for the year. The players are doing gym sessions and finishing out the season with their clubs.

However, after Christmas there will be no McGrath Cup as many of the Munster teams boycotted it in retaliation for the seeded provincial draw. The introduction of the controversial rule is very frustrating for a county like Waterford who are directly affected.

"I just don't get it; I can't see why there aren't more teams other than the four teams in Munster upset about it. It's an easier passage for Cork and Kerry. They will see it as an easy passage into the Munster final and into the last 12 of the All-Ireland. Teams in Leinster and Ulster have to play a lot of games to get to that stage. I agree with them both getting a bye into the semi-finals, but it should be an open draw then."

Having played in the O'Byrne Cup, Sweeney knows the benefits of the pre-season tournament and is disappointed that his new team won't get the opportunity to have a run of competitive games in the McGrath Cup.

Along with being beneficial to players, it gives new management a chance to try out players at that high level. There will be plenty of challenge games in January but it's hard to replicate competition.

Although Kildare and Waterford aren't set to meet in the immediate future, there is always a possibility that it could happen later on in the season. It's crossed the Moorefield man's mind but he isn't sure how he'd feel when faced with the prospect.

"It would be strange and I've thought about it once or twice. I'm so fresh out of it and have so many friends still involved that I don't know how I'd react. I'm sure as soon as we get fully going with Waterford that's going to be the number one priority. You will want to win no matter who you are playing."

Sweeney is following in the footsteps of several Kildare managers by taking a job with a county other than his own. For him, where you are from isn't an issue as long as you work hard and are honest. He's learned a lot from all of his former bosses, both at his club Moorefield and his county.

Having played under the likes of Kieran McGeeney, Mick O'Dwyer and Sos Dowling, he has experienced different management styles and he intends to take something from each one.

Although Sweeney had retired from Kildare before McGeeney was ejected from his manager role, he was still very shocked and disappointed to see him go.

"I thought he deserved at least another year at it. The under 21s had just won the Leinster championship. And seven or eight of them had made their championship debuts under Kieran, which would have brought them on a lot for this year.

"It was a strange one for me because I had already decided to go, but it was very disappointing for him. He wanted to stay on and he wasn't given the opportunity.

"The way it was handled was all wrong. There is no doubt about that. It was a bad day for Kildare football; I think everybody who was involved would say that. I think it should never happen again and hopefully those involved will learn from it."

Sweeney played under McGeeney throughout his six-year tenure and was very impressed by the former Armagh man's way of doing things. He was relentless, always working on ways to make Kildare football better. When it came to preparation, training and fundraising, he always gave it 100 per cent.

But that chapter is closed now and the players and McGeeney have moved on. Jason Ryan is the new boss and the reports coming out of the Kildare camp are good.

"I was speaking to a few of the lads and they are very happy with how Jason is approaching the whole thing. There seems to be a good buzz around the place. There is a large squad there at the moment and they are having trials; an extended panel will be picked from that then."

Sweeney, of course, is still playing club football with Moorefield and today they take on Portlaoise in the Leinster championship for the second time in three years. The Laois champions won last time around but it was a game that Sweeney's side could have won.

"It was one of those games where I think a few decisions didn't go our way. We had a goal chance right in front of the posts and we missed. Ever since then we have been trying to get back to this level for another go at it, to do ourselves justice because we didn't feel we did the last time."

They didn't have a great year last year but with a new manager, Luke Dempsey, at the helm there is a freshness about the team. Dempsey brought changes, along with a new backroom team, and a few younger players stepped up to the plate. The effects were immediate. Moorefield won the pre-season tournament, the league and the Kildare championship, disposing of Sarsfields in the final. They then beat St Martin's in the Leinster quarter-final to set up today's semi-final.

They have a fully fit squad going into today's game and Sweeney is feeling confident.

"Daryl Flynn was away getting married but he's back now, so is our other midfielder David White. He came on the last day and scored 1-2. He's coming good at the right time. We know Portlaoise pretty well, what they have achieved in their own county and what they are capable of."

As someone who is involved in management but still playing club football, Sweeney sees both sides of the coin with regards the club fixtures pile-up.

"Every manager wants to look after their team and every player wants to be the best that they can be. More often than not when you are playing you are thinking of the bigger picture. You want to be at your peak for the big games at inter-county level, so if you have a niggle it's probably right you take a rest from the club for league games and get yourself right for the county. It's up to you to repay the club then with a big performance.

"But I think there is a massive problem with club fixtures. Look at last week with Longford Slashers and Portlaoise, it was finished in the dark. It's so disrespectful for these players who are playing at such a high level.

"These provincial club championships are not far off inter-county standard. Something has to come from Croke Park to address this problem."

Sunday Independent

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