“I think in every season, there is a Red Sea moment where it’s almost a light bulb moment, whereby player, management, backroom team all wake up to some type of realisation, whether it’s part of your game plan or attitude or what you need to do in training,” said O’Neill at their Leinster final press conference.
“And I think the team really tightened up after that and we realised that we had some good runs, some good wins in Division 2, but Galway were the best team we played by some distance in that final and we came up short. And they still weren’t a Division 1 team. So, I think that kind of was a reality that dawned on us.”
Dublin, he knows, are an entirely different proposition and Kildare, as much as they have been playing a lot of positive football of late, must adapt accordingly.
“We’ve never met anything like the level that Dublin can perform to, and, to be fair, we’ve never met a Division 1 team yet either, so that has to be factored in, but I think we’ve invested a lot of time, energy and hard work into trying to get our game-plan right, that suits the players we have, that is a different squad to what we had last year.
“Will we be more defensive-minded? Of course, we will. Will we need to put in 20% or 30% more intensity? Of course, we will.
“You’re playing the All-Ireland champions, two-time champions, but we’ll still play attacking football.
“The real challenge will be to get the balance right between the two. You certainly can’t leave any of your defenders or your defensive line exposed against a team like Dublin, so we’re going to work really hard on that, but we’re still going to play the type of football that has made some progress for us and for the county this year.”
Then again, the Cork IT lecturer recognises a change in Dublin’s style this year even in their destruction of Westmeath last day out.
“If anything, I think they’ve gone more defensive. I’m not sure who was there the last day, but at times they had 15 men behind the ball. I’ve never seen that before with Dublin. What they do is what they do, but it was interesting, where, at times in the match, and it wasn’t because Westmeath had 15 men up — there were still two or three Westmeath men back — so to see 15 Dublin players all behind the 45-metre line was interesting to me.
“But then the flipside of that is they’re so athletic and they’re skilful and full of pace, that they can break at speed, so maybe that’s just an adaptation to the tactics that they’ve used in recent years, but are they more direct?
“I think they’re playing as well as ever. I don’t think they’re more direct, particularly.”
Those who dared to question Dublin after the difficulties Carlow presented them were humbled by what they did to Westmeath, and are now ridiculed by O’Neill.
“Anyone who ever doubted them was incredibly naïve or even stupid. This is one of the best teams in the modern era and they’ve obviously got a couple of more weeks of training under their belts, a couple of more players back in.
“When they got going they were absolutely phenomenal, their movement on the ball, off the ball, their work rate, intensity.
“They were incredibly impressive. I think anybody who stepped in their way would have been in trouble.”