He’s on the sideline now. There was a time not so long ago when Dara Ó Cinnéide was the tip of the spear as An Ghaeltacht collected Kerry senior titles and made it to the big show on St Patrick’s Day, but now the prolific forward is part of the club’s management team.
They collected the Kerry intermediate title this year, however, not senior. What happened?
“It’s the classic rural GAA story, where you have the group coming together,” says Ó Cinnéide.
“In 1987 we’d all have been playing U12 together, that group, and we won everything up the ages, two minor titles, so it was inevitable that you’d have some impact at senior level when you got up there, and we did.
“People say we didn’t get enough out of it, but I’d argue that we actually overachieved. We had so many county players that it was impossible to have a cohesive club unit.
“I’m gone ten years, my cousin Cathal Ó Dubhda retired 11 years ago, Darragh Ó Sé went . . . you don’t notice it, but it happens. The players go and then you have to rebuild. Every club could tell a similar story.”
Not every club can point to such a focused recovery, though. The men from the tip of the Dingle peninsula are working to a plan and have been all year.
“We have three games left between now and the end of the year - we have the game tomorrow against St Senan’s, then the following week we have the West Kerry final, which is hugely important to us, and we have the county league final on December 17.
“We’d be over the moon to win them all, and we’ll be gutted if we don’t win tomorrow. We want this run to keep going, we want to go all the way and we have that ambition. It’s a matter of taking it one game at a time, but we have a long term plan as well. We’re also working towards Comortas Péile na Gaeltachta in 2019, when the age profile of the team should be such that they don’t need us but can take ownership of the thing themselves.
“Every milestone along the way, those we set out for the team in January, has been reached.
“We didn’t want to be beaten back in Gallarus this year, a big thing for us, and we weren’t. We wanted to win the intermediate, and we did, and we wanted to win Comortas Péile na Gaeltachta, and we did. Those were the three big ones.”
Mentioning ownership: does that great Gaeltacht side of the early noughties cast a long shadow over the current side?
“I don’t think it’s a burden - the last ten years have been fallow, though in fairness the management team in place before us had turned the ship around a year and a half ago, and the tide was rising. The lads we have - I finished playing about ten years ago and there may be two or three still involved from that time, Marc (Ó Sé) being one of them. The other lads would have been kids when we got to the All-Ireland club final in 2004, colouring the flags at school and so on - the primary schools here would be great to get the enthusiasm going when something like this happens.
“They’re seeing that now, and though we lost that club final they’re seeing that now themselves as adults, as players. That was our pinnacle, but there’s no question of us living through the lads or anything like that.”
There are also lessons for the players along the way, he adds: “It’s different. Take the game (the semi-final against Mallow in Cork) - that means carrying a crowd out of the county with you. The game tomorrow is in Tralee, which makes perfect sense, because it’s halfway between the Gaeltacht and Foynes, but we’d love another day out. That feel of organising buses, the crack on the buses, where those stop on the way back, all of that is great.”
Which brings us to tomorrow, and the Munster final clash with St Senan’s of Limerick.
“We know less than we knew about Mallow - we’d seen a lot of Mallow and spoken to people about them.
“After the Mallow game we were watching Twitter and following the St Senan’s-Kilmihil game, and for a lot of that it looked like Kilmihil would win it. Then St Senan’s did the job and we found it hard to find information about them.
“Anyone we spoke to doesn’t have film of them, for instance, and while we’d know individual players and so on, we’d obviously know who their headline acts are. But to a large extent St Senan’s are a bit of a mystery to us, so you’d have concerns. You’d be curious as to why someone like Ian Ryan is playing in the half-backs for them when someone like Conor Mullane, who was an exceptional half-back when I played against him, is now lining out at full-forward.”
Ó Cinnéide acknowledges that players can be overloaded with information as well, however.
“We’d feel now like we’re not doing our job properly if we don’t have that film and so on - that we’re not arming them with enough information. That said, there have been times this year when we may have overthought things on the sideline and given the players too much to digest. And our lads are a young team, you might be better off leaving them off the leash and having a go, but when you provide that amount of information there can be an expectation that you’ll keep doing so. We’ve given them what they need, I hope, and if we lose we’ll take it on the chin, but certainly our homework wouldn’t be as extensive as it has been for other games.
“Still, we’d love to knock another couple of weeks out of the run.”
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