The fixture was originally scheduled for next weekend but will instead be played today to facilitate the upcoming Bruce Springsteen concert at Croke Park.
Dublin hurling boss Ger Cunningham revealed that the switch (with their clash against Wexford also brought forward) has ruled out Colm Cronin who is sitting medical exams.
O’Neill understands the dilemma with 11 students in his panel and is puzzled why an outside event would be allowed to affect players’ lives and their preparations.
“It is just a pity the match is so close to exams” says O’Neill. “If it wasn’t for Bruce we would have had another week to prepare and the exams would have been long over at that stage. It is not right on two fronts. Number one our national game should take priority but the fact it was not scheduled in at the start of the year meant we had already got our periodised training plan in place, so it meant we had to change it again.
“From a selfish point of view for ourselves or Wexford, (the gap) to the semi-final is a long, long time (five weeks). They talk about how it is not good to win a Munster Hurling Championship because it is five or six weeks to a semi-final. It is just not ideal. It would have been four (weeks) and an extra week after the students’ exams but Wexford are in the same boat. “
O’Neill has been conscious of trying to maintain a mental freshness among the group, meaning students have had time off. It isn’t ideal but he is just six months into the job and this is a longer term project. The Moorefield man understands the impatience among some Kildare fans for younger players to be introduced quickly but insists that he is best placed to decide whether they are able to make the leap.
“There has been relative success in Kildare terms with minor and U21 championships being won recently so it is really about what players can take the step forward because it is a jump forward to senior. I think if you try and do that too quickly, they might get lost in terms of the step-up of challenge in college as well.
“I think you need to look at whether they are they mentally ready, are they physically ready, is their game developed enough for it, can they cope with the pressure of playing seven matches in 11 weeks. The only people who can make that decision in an informed way is the management. It is fine for people to have opinions and to say that a guy is ready but he might have looked brilliant in a club match where he was marking maybe the weaker players on that team and had an outstanding performance but there are no weak players on an inter-county team; they are the best 30-35 players in the county.”
He is aware too of the increasing demand for immediate success in terms of silverware, even in counties where such expectations aren’t realistic, and knows that Kildare supporters can aim too high at times.
“For better or for worse the expectation in Kildare has always been incredibly high. Which is interesting considering it is a county with very little success if we are being honest, particularly at senior level. I would say Mayo is another county with similar expectation but they have been winning provincial championships, they have been in All-Irelands so the supporters have every right for that and the players work so hard to try and get to that Holy Grail.
“It is a good thing in Kildare because no matter what the match you are going to have a fantastic support and fanbase. They do really want it for the team but there does need to be a level of pragmatism and reality about where we are in the pecking order. But that’s my job, that’s why I am here. It is to try and take this from where we were at the start of the year up another notch or two and to leave the county in a better state than when I found it. If that means championships along the way then I will be absolutely delighted to be part of that.”
Losing a Division 3 final to Clare offered a reminder of the road that needs to be travelled.
“The key thing there was that we conceded a goal right on the stroke of half-time and right on the stroke of full-time which is very naive in many ways. The fact it was a long ball in and the cover wasn’t there is disappointing.
“And then when we went three points up and even though we had lost a man for the last 20 minutes, were playing with 14 men, I just felt our game management could have been a bit better but that is going to come with time, with experience and (when) the players can be more comfortable with the game plan and how to close out games, something Kildare had been accused about not being adept at in years gone by.
The concession of scorable frees is a recurring blight that proved costly once again.
“It is more of a holistic issue we are looking at, not just the defensive six or seven players.”