New Kildare football manager Cian O’Neill revealed he rebuffed up to 15 inter-county positions in recent seasons and only left his Kerry role because his native county called.
The Newbridge man, who has had successful stints with management teams in Limerick, Mayo and Kerry, and the Tipp hurlers, agreed to manage Kildare for the next three years.
Prior to being contacted by the Lilies, the Cork Institute of Technology department head had agreed to stick with beaten All-Ireland finalists Kerry for a fourth season. But the lure of his own county was too strong and despite intriguingly rating them as a third tier team, he is optimistic about reviving Kildare and making them a competitive force again.
He will shortly assess all his potential players and has also vowed to do his best to bring former stars Paddy Brophy and Sean Hurley back from Australian Rules football.
“In the last four years — I left Tipp in 2011 — there has probably been anywhere from 10 to 15 inter-county jobs offered that I never even entertained because it just didn’t feel right for me,” said O’Neill.
“Going home to Kildare is the perfect fit. If this hadn’t been an option, you can be sure I would still be down with the management team in Kerry, there’s no question about that. But I just felt going home, it was probably the right time for me.”
O’Neill acknowledged he has a significant job of work on his hands as he attempts to return Kildare to the sort of status they enjoyed under Kieran McGeeney.
More recently, they have slipped behind not just Dublin in their province but also Meath and O’Neill conceded that his county isn’t a contender for Championship silverware.
Asked how wide the gap is between the Kildare panel he has inherited and the Kerry one that he has left, O’Neill said it is sizeable.
“I think that gap is quite significant, if I’m being honest. That’s not just with Kildare. I think the gap is quite significant between Kerry, Dublin... Mayo too will be very competitive again next year. I think those three teams in particular are somewhat further ahead. I would almost look at it as three tiers, some people might say four. You’d have those three teams I mentioned, then you’d have the likes of Tyrone, Donegal, Cork, who are probably that little bit off it at the moment, but who have all challenged hard in recent years.
“I think it’s quite a drop then to the rest, that’s my own thoughts and I’m aware of saying that as a Kildare manager but I’m realistic of the challenge in front of me. Having said that, I don’t think it needs to be a 10-year wait or détente before you bring a team from that third tier to the second.
“I think if you look at the great work Jim McGuinness did with Donegal, that was quite meteoric in terms of what was achieved in three years. And it is possible if you bring the right culture and the right mindset. I think the players are in Kildare, I think the younger players coming through are there. Obviously we need to sit down as a management team and review the panel but there will always be great footballers in Kildare. It’s just about creating the right environment to excel and to reach their potential. That will be the biggest challenge.”
Speaking at a promotion organised by Brady Family Ham, who have agreed to sponsor Kildare GAA for another three years, O’Neill suggested Kerry weren’t as far away from beating Dublin in the All-Ireland final last month as he initially believed. “I felt, after reviewing it, we were closer than I thought at the time, all the time being very aware that Dublin had some clear cut chances too, you can’t escape that.
“But it wasn’t as bad as I thought in real time, and it is normally the other way, after you watch a game back. That is just my perspective, and obviously I’m biased. Really there is no way of putting your finger on what went wrong. I haven’t spoke to many players, I have spoken to some. I think it was just a catalogue of different things that went against us.”
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