Succeeding Henry Shefflin who had led Ballyhale Shamrocks to back-to-back All-Irelands was one thing but James O’Connor’s task was made all the more difficult by the pandemic.
Appointed to the managerial position last February, it was the guts of four months before the Lismore man, who had led Fr O’Neill’s to last year’s All-Ireland intermediate club final, actually began to coach the panel.
"It was a nightmare start,” he admitted. “I was appointed last February then the Covid happened, there was three months off where I wasn't with them. Essentially, I came in at the end of June and had three or four weeks until our first league match so I had no time at all to get ready. That was worrying.
“To be stepping into the shoes of Henry Shefflin after winning back-to-back All-Irelands in the last two years, there was a massive task but thankfully as the games went on we started to gel well and training was going exceptionally well and I knew things would come good in the end because training was so good, week-on-week. It was great to see them do three in a row.”
O’Connor only consulted with Shefflin after he had analysed the semi-final double-header for RTÉ.
“He (Henry) actually stepped away completely. I actually spoke to Henry last week and that was the first time this year we actually spoke. I rang him because he was here at the Dicksboro (semi-final) game and I wanted his view and we spoke for 20 minutes or so.
“He kept away and left me at it, to be honest with you. He's a great guy, a great club man and he is always there in the background anyway. Thankfully I had the full reins all the time.”
With the late inclusion of Adrian Mullen on the panel after his cruciate tear in February, O’Connor provided some promising news for Kilkenny.
"Believe it or not, he trained with us during the week so that was the first time he trained. He is within three or four weeks of playing a bit of serious stuff, he is close he got the all clear from the surgeon so it's only a case of getting some training and a couple of practice matches into him. He won't be too far away. he is in good shape anyway.”