Former Kildare manager Cian O’Neill has opened up on the intense pressure he put on himself during his four years in charge of his native county.
Appearing on the Irish Examiner GAA podcast, the Moorefield man spoke candidly about how he didn’t leave his house for four days after Kildare lost a Leinster semi-final to Westmeath by a point in his debut season of 2016.
“We were in Division Three, a difficult place for Kildare, we got promoted, but we lost the League final. You’d be disappointed to lose a Division 3, but I kind of got over it and rationalised it, maybe we weren’t tuned in enough to the fact that Division 3 silverware was better than none.
“And then we went into the Leinster championship and we were caught in the semi-final by Westmeath, managed by Tom Cribbin who ironically was in with us this year.
“I’m not joking I didn’t leave the house, didn’t physically leave my house until the Thursday of that week after the Sunday. And I had never felt that before. It actually scared me, it scared my wife, and I have obviously improved since then.
“But that’s an experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone and I wouldn’t want to be there myself again. It was self-imposed. I just felt that I had let the team down, the county down, my family down and it’s just what came over me.
I just hadn’t been there before and then you realise how challenging it would have been in the past with Éamonn (Fitzmaurice) in the past or Liam (Sheedy) in 2008 when we were caught by Waterford in that semi-final.
“When it’s your own county, it’s different. I never felt the highs like I did, but I definitely never felt the lows either and that’s tough and you need to have the skills that I think we develop over time to deal with that.”
O’Neill readily admits the success he had as a coach with Tipperary’s hurlers and the footballers of Mayo and Kerry didn’t prepare him for the setbacks he would feel in charge of Kildare.
“Year one was very tough for me. It wasn’t helped by the fact you were coming in from a very fortunate position having worked with really successful teams, brilliant managers that you’ve learned from and there were probably more good days than bad days with the Kerrys, the Tipps and Mayo.
“I think the other side is when it’s your own county — there’s a different level of, I suppose, emotion and sensitivity surrounding that, you know. My dad still lives in Kildare, my wife’s family are in Kildare, my own family. And so every loss is not just a disappointment for the group, it’s a devastation almost for who you represent, which is your own people.”
Time-management was his biggest difficulty, he admits. “It’s probably no different for players in many ways but trying trying to manage it, navigate your way through having a job during the week, and then negotiating time before you even get the training or get the match day, the planning and the preparation that goes around that.
"And a lot of that incorporates spending quality time with players, whether it’s individuals or units within the group.
“If you really want to be the best you can be, you need more than 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week, to be honest. And that to me was the most difficult thing, especially my job will be demanding in its own right no more than anyone else.
"And just trying to fit everything in without question was the most challenging thing for me.” O’Neill acknowledges he didn’t like breaking it to players that they were dropped either, something he wouldn’t have been used to as a coach.
“In some cases, it might be telling a guy, you’re not going to make the 26 and not be involved. And, and he’s trained as much and as hard and as long as anyone else in that panel. But unfortunately, you know, you have to make these tough calls. So that that’s a part of the job I didn’t enjoy. And it certainly was challenging.”