Mayo blow as O’Neill set to join Kingdom next season

Mayo boss James Horan is bracing himself for another massive blow with highly regarded coach Cian O’Neill poised to leave the Connacht champions to team up with Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s Kerry next season.

The new Kingdom manager has an agreement in principle with the University of Limerick lecturer O’Neill to come to Kerry next season, adding a key component to his newly-formed management team.

That rules out any involvement with Kerry for Donie Buckley, who was tipped to return to the Kerry camp after leaving Jack O’Connor’s backroom team last May.

O’Neill’s loss is a massive blow to Horan and the beaten All-Ireland finalists. He has been a key part of Mayo’s resurgence this season, having spent the previous three campaigns with the Tipperary hurlers.

Sunday was Kildare-born O’Neill’s fourth successive appearance with All-Ireland finalists, and he is viewed as one of the leading GAA conditioning coaches in the country.

The Newbridge man previously worked with Limerick’s footballers in 2006 and ’07 as well as Newtownshandrum when they won Cork and Munster senior hurling titles in ’09.

Fitzmaurice’s success in persuading O’Neill away from Mayo is a major coup for the new Kerry manager, and will help ensure there are no voluntary retirements from this year’s squad. But he may have to proceed in 2013 without Seamus Moynihan, whom Fitzmaurice had hoped to bring on board as a selector. Work commitments may prevent the Kerry legend from taking up the post, leaving Mikey Sheehy and Diarmuid Murphy as selectors, and Fitzmaurice and O’Neill as coaches.

Apart from the opportunity to work with the 36-time All-Ireland winners, the shorter journey from O’Neill’s Limerick base to Killarney is more appealing than the commute to Castlebar. Throughout the summer, he had been making the six-hour round trips twice a week.

It’s understood Mayo are already eyeing Ballaghaderreen native Barry Solan as O’Neill’s replacement on the Horan management ticket. He impressed with Justin McNulty’s Laois this year.

Dublin-based lecturer Solan also worked with the Poland national soccer team for this year’s European Championships as well as Olympic boxing gold champion Katie Taylor and Clontarf’s AIL rugby team.

At Sunday’s post-match function, Horan insisted that Sunday’s All-Ireland final appearance was “only the start” for the team, while injured captain Andy Moran said “the only failure is not to come back next year”.

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