Kildare are heading into a Leinster opener as favourites, but Cian O’Neill accepts his group have a difficulty with expectation.
After bowing out to underdogs Carlow last summer, the Lilywhites defied the odds to reach the Super 8, on the way beating a more fancied Mayo, on that famous evening in Newbridge.
As they face another Division 4 outfit, Wicklow, tomorrow, O’Neill knows the players have to begin embracing the onus on them to win.
Asked if they struggle with expectation, O’Neill responds: “If you look back at those (recent Championship) defeats, a lot of them were matches we were expected to win and some of the big coups were matches where we were underdogs.
It’s only in recent years where there has been success at underage, but is the translation of the systems and beliefs from underage level transferring to senior? Because they are totally different games, maybe there is a transition thing we need to look at, as well, about the expectation of how you did here against young men of your own age is very different than what’s expected at senior.
"I think that’s something that can be looked at and now is a very ripe time for that, because we have so many guys from last year’s U20s coming in.”
Inconsistency is another word O’Neill isn’t afraid to mention, but that is a Kildare phenomenon that predates his time in charge.
“You could go back 19 years, to 2000. In the late Noughties there, when there were serial (All-Ireland) quarter-final appearances. There were defeats to Wicklow and Louth in the first round of Leinster and they bounce back and have great backdoor series.
“Under Jason Ryan’s time, they beat Cork in Thurles, but the next week they are beaten by seven goals by Kerry. In my own time, we put in a decent performance against Dublin and, two weeks later, under-perform in a last-12 match. It’s that inconsistency that has been a killer.
“And last year was probably the best example to lose the way we did, early on, and then bounce back. Is it psychological? There’s obviously a part of that, no question. Is there a belief issue? That’s something we are constantly trying to work on. Belief, in its most pure form, can only really be developed by consistent success and performance and if that isn’t there then that has an impact on belief.”
Missing out on promotion didn’t upset O’Neill, not when he was without so many players, including almost his entire 2018 SFC attack for that final-round game against Donegal. And yet, when they trailed by 12 points at half-time, it would have been considered by some fans as “typical Kildare”.
O’Neill shrugs: “My wife (Tammy), who studies psychotherapy, has often said, ‘what other people think is none of your business’. So you have to take that on board, as a coach or player. So, of course, there were a few of our own supporters thinking that, but I think it’s complex.”
O’Neill will be without at least a couple of key players again this weekend — Kevin Flynn (broken foot) and Paul Cribbin (groin) — while captain, Eoin Doyle (hamstring), is a concern. Niall Kelly is back from travelling and Cathal McNally from a long-term Achilles heel problem.