For the third time in 18 years, Jack O’Connor will take charge of Kerry’s senior footballers.
After being recommended by the county's management committee, the 2022 season is set to be the three-time All-Ireland SFC winning manager’s eighth guiding the county’s leading team. His first stint between 2004 and ’06 furnished two Sam Maguire Cups and his second term between 2009 and ‘12 saw him collect the top honour again in his first season in charge.
O’Connor stepped down as Kildare manager earlier this month after two seasons citing the travel commitments from South Kerry. The 60-year-old will be proposed for ratification along with his selectors Diarmuid Murphy and ex-Laois manager Mike Quirke at the next county board meeting on October 4.
Paddy Tally, who was in charge of Down for the past three seasons up to July, could come on board as a coach in the coming weeks, while Colm Cooper has been approached about joining the ticket. Kieran Donaghy was contacted but is remaining with Kieran McGeeney in Armagh for 2022.
O’Connor was interviewed for the position this past week along with outgoing manager Peter Keane and Stephen Stack, who had compiled a strong management team including Donie Buckley, Seamus Moynihan, Mickey Ned O’Sullivan and Dara Ó Cinnéide.
Keane is believed to have put forward his case for another two years with largely the same management group, while there was a sense among the selection sub-committee that Stack did not have enough inter-county experience.
Dromid Pearses man O’Connor, who did not hide his desire to manage Kerry again in an Irish Examiner podcast last month, guided Kildare to Division 1 this season as well as a Leinster final. Between that and stepping away from Kerry’s seniors nine years ago, he brought the county’s minors to back-to-back All-Ireland titles in 2014 and ‘15 prior to taking the helm of the U21 and U20s.
Former Kerry player Quirke resigned from his role in Laois in July after two seasons in charge. Laois were relegated from Division 2 this season and were knocked out of the Leinster SFC by Westmeath.
Dingle man Murphy joined O’Connor as a selector less than two years after he retired from Kerry and held the position up until Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s time as manager.
As well as setting off alarm balls in Kildare, O’Connor’s interview with Paul Rouse last month had also made officials in Kerry aware that he was interested in putting his name forward despite losing out to Keane for the role in 2018.
“Of course, there is an allure there,” he said. “Who doesn’t want to coach Man United? There is that allure because of the tradition. It’s how much it means to people down here. You meet women on the street, they mightn’t have gone to the game but they want to talk about the game. It’s everything down here. You can’t escape from it down there. Any pocket in the county you go to, they want to talk football so it’s all-consuming. Sure, it’s an absolute joy when you win but a lonely, dark place when you don’t.”
O'Connor continued: “Look, the Kerry gig is a fantastic job. It’s a very challenging job but would you want to be anywhere else in many ways because the tradition is here, everything is built towards the Kerry senior football team, the players are coming through. If you want an easy life, you go coach somewhere else.
“It is a very tough environment. I keep telling people this - I’m not bragging, I’m just giving you facts - in my first four years coaching Kerry were '04, '05, '06 and '09, I won three leagues, three Munster championships, three All-Irelands, I got the height of abuse. That’s a fact.”