New Kildare boss Jack O’Connor has admitted he had little interest in returning to inter-county management but was convinced to do so by his personal connections with the Leinster county.
The three-time All-Ireland winning Kerry boss, who was in charge of the Kingdom’s U20s last summer, initially planned to step away from management for at least 12 months.
He retired from teaching earlier this year and planned to take time out and travel, having estimated that he’s been coaching teams for almost 30 years.
“This would have been my first real break,” said O’Connor, who was convinced to ditch that plan when Kildare contacted him about replacing Cian O’Neill.
O’Connor played minor club football in Kildare with a Celbridge-Leixlip amalgamation when studying at Maynooth University in 1978 while his sons, Eanna and Cian, have won senior county titles with Moorefield in recent seasons.
Asked if these connections were significant in his decision to return to senior county management, O’Connor nodded.
“It made the decision a bit easier alright,” said O’Connor.
“I honestly did intend on taking time out. But the fact that the lads are up here made it that bit easier. I’d be coming up to see them anyway fairly regularly. That certainly was a factor, yeah.”
O’Connor said that the 400-mile round trip from his home at St Finian’s Bay in south Kerry to Kildare’s training base takes around eight hours to complete.
But he has signed up for a three-year period, with a review after year two, and is optimistic about the team’s ability to improve after two patchy seasons.
Speaking at his official unveiling as Lilywhites manager, he referenced the word consistency on eight occasions, clearly underlining where he feels they must improve.
“They have shown glimpses of promise over the past few years,” he said. “Even down in Killarney last year in the Super 8s, they played very well for the first 20 minutes.
"It’s just a matter of trying to get consistency. But I think to get that consistency you have to train and get a panel that are used to playing together and create that bit of chemistry, that’s where you get the consistency.
"I think Kildare probably had too many injuries and too many fellas missing to really be consistent enough.”
O’Connor has set his team the immediate target of gaining promotion to Division 1 of the Allianz league.
As for the Championship, he acknowledged that Dublin have cast a shadow over not just the rest of Leinster but the country, making a provincial title a long shot.
“It’s hard to know, I think the ultimate aim for everyone is trying to get to the Super 8s, no matter what the route is,” he said.
Dublin have won the last nine Leinster titles, and 14 of the last 15, with no indications that the five-in-a-row All-Ireland winners’ dominance is going to end.
“They’ve frightened off a lot of teams, haven’t they?” said O’Connor.
“You just have to keep the faith and be confident that one day they’ll slip a bit and make it a more level playing field for everyone.”
O’Connor’s first big challenge may be to convince key players like Daniel Flynn, who didn’t feature in 2019, to commit.
“Over the next few weeks I’ll be endeavouring to contact as many fellas as possible,” said O’Connor.