Saturday morning, the sun shining, senior and intermediate champion-
ship games later in the day but first came a chat with Jack O'Connor, the legendary former Kerry boss who is the latest manager to come on board with The Lilies hoping to work the oracle.
This is one of the biggest challenges you will face in your entire managerial career I put to him early in our conversation.
He smiled, laughed and replied “thanks for that Tommy, very reassuring.
“But listen I am at a stage in my life that I love challenges, it motivates me, I retired from teaching last May so actually for the first time ever I have the time to do a job like this properly but I have plenty of energy and enthusiasm and am really looking forward to it in a big way.”
Was it a big decision to take on the job?
“The big thing was the logistics, it's a long way from Kerry to Kildare but my two lads live in Kildare, I know Kildare football from being involved with Moorefield over the past few seasons, I am well used to the drive so while I thought about it, it did not take me long to accept the position.
“I went in with Kerry in '04 and everyone thought I inherited a team of super stars; they were after kicking five points against Meath in 2001 All Ireland semi final; they were beaten in a final in 2002, they were after kicking six points in an All Ireland semi final against Tyrone in 2003; hardly great racing form going into 2004, so I was going in under big pressure; Paudi (O Sé) was a legend and was replaced rather acrimoniously to say the least, so I was going in under great pressure, red raw at senior experience level; but I have a lot more experience now, that time I felt I had just pure raw enthusiasm but that can sometimes take you over the line; where there's a will there's a way; if there is a why their's a how; so expectation and pressure I can handle.”
But the expectation in Kildare is always huge, he is reminded, to which he quickly replied: “Why.”
Difficult to answer that but he was reminded again expectation will gather momentum and that's for sure.
The man who has led his native county to five All Ireland finals, winning three, replied: “The only think I will say about expectation is it can bring pressure, but that's not a bad thing; it would be a lot worse if fans were going around with heads down saying we'll never win anything, you think Kildare is bad, Kerry is worse because everyone you meet in Kerry has an opinion about football because that is the game down there, at least here in Kildare there are a few more things going on like horse racing or whatever, but when it comes to pressure it never gets any worse that it is in Kerry.
“My first four years in Kerry, we won 3 All Ireland, 3 Leagues and 3 Munster titles but I felt the heat big time; remember we got booed off the field in Pairc Ui Caoimh in 2006 in the Munster final we lost, yet we came back and won the All Ireland. If there is pressure in Kildare there is a lot more in Kerry I can certainly testify to that.”
So where does Jack O'Connor see Kildare and what are his hopes for the future.
“Kildare are in Division 2 which is really not where you want to be, you want to be in the top division and competing with the big boys, I just feel that possibly last year the players Kildare were missing realistically they couldn't put their best foot forward without those players but we will be endeavouring to get the best players in Kildare to make themselves available, that is a priority of mine, Tom (Cribbin) and Ross (Glavin).
So how will the new management set-up approach their initial year in charge, take a long term view to build up a squad or hope to make an immediate impact?
“Every year you are involved with a team you set out to work out as hard as you can, so it's very hard to spin the yarn you are aiming for three years time; yes of course you are always thinking of the long term and include young good players, maybe not to be ready this year so that's really the way I would look at it, you are trying to be successful every year but you are also keeping an eye on the future; really you have to try and do both at the same time.”
And what style of football would you like to see Kildare play, a Kerry style, a Dublin style, a defensive style or an attacking style?
“Look, you can't impose a style of play on a group of players, you first of all have to assemble what you think is your best panel of players and then develop a style that suits that particular group of players, you can't be always saying you have to play this style of play to beat Dublin or whoever, you really have to adapt the style that suits your team, your players and what that style will be is very hard to say from a distance but there is no one style you can say that's the style I am going to coach these players to play because some times the opposition simply won't allow you to and therefore you have to adapt different systems to cope with various situations.”
As regards the modern day football do you feel it needs more changes, or are you of the opinion football is really not in as bad a place as some people might suggest?
“You see the game is ok if you have got two evenly matched teams but where the problem(s) arise is if one team is clearly inferior to the other and they (the inferior team) decide to shut up shop and go defensive tying to stay competitive as long as possible; it is hard to play those teams that do that” adding “their certainly does not seem to be anything wrong with the game after looking at Dublin and Kerry in the All Ireland final and that's for sure.”
Yourself and the two selectors, is that it?
“My intention is not to extend that but you never know, but I do feel three is the right number; I am putting together the rest of the backroom and hopefully will have that done in the next few weeks.”
There is no doubt their is a great sense of anticipation, not just from outside the Kildare camp but certainly within it and listening to Jack O'Connor and Tom Cribbin last week (Ross Glavin was preparing Moorefield for their clash with Clane) they certainly have big plans and getting all the players on board is top of their priority list.
Will they hold trial games before finalising an initial panel?
“No hard and fast rule there, we'll see what the championship throws up; there is of course a hard core of players there since last year but we'll see what the championship throws up; the championship always throws up a few new players but we'll have a look at that after the championship and if we feel we need to hold a trial or two we will do before issuing an initial panel.”
And when do you hope to meet players and commence training?
“We'll look at the championship, draw up a list of players but we will be casting the net fairly wide looking for enthusiastic players that want to play, whether that will involve a bit of a revolution of last year's panel we will just have to wait and see, not too sure when we can assemble due to Croke Park rules but we'll find that out; we have already been keeping an eye on the championship and will continue to do that; it's really all systems go from now; can't wait to get into it; really excited about it as are Tom and Ross.”
The sun is shining as we exit from our chat, no doubt there is a long way to go; a lot of time and more im-
portantly, work to be undertaken but if the meeting we had on the first Saturday morning of September with Jack O'Connor is anything to go on, we can certainly look forward with belief that these are serious folk taking charge, ambitious, enthusiastic and dare I say it, even confident of what lies ahead for Kildare.