New Kildare manager Cian O’Neill insists the huge expectations of the county’s passionate supporters will not have any bearing on his targets.
As the first native to take the reins since John Crofton resigned in 2007, O’Neill is well aware of the hunger for success in Kildare.
If he needed reminding, an estimated 1,800 people turned up at St Conleth’s Park on Sunday to watch his competitive debut as boss and the ovation accorded to the excellent Eoghan O’Flaherty as he was substituted late on in the 14-point defeat of DIT seemed more in keeping with a championship clash.
O’Neill takes over with the Lilywhites in Division 3 of the League but that creates its own pressures with a groundless presumption that they will return to the second tier with a 100% record.
A Leinster Championship draw that has pitted them against Wexford and either Longford, Offaly or last year’s finalists Westmeath is the foundation for an expectation of reaching the provincial decider.
Such targets are achievable of course, and one imagines they are what management and players are aiming for, but based on form over the past three or four seasons, they are hardly a given.
“We can’t control what people want and it’s only right the supporters demand these things” says O’Neill. “They’re as important as anyone else involved in the GAA.
“But what’s important is what we want as a group of players, management and backroom.
“We very clearly set out our objectives and we won’t deviate from that just because the masses think we should be winning all these matches.
“I’d love to go through the year unbeaten but the nature of sport is that you lose more than you win.
“But our key thing is that we try to be competitive in every single match.
“We’re going to hit stumbling blocks along the way, we have to realise that, and it’s going to be a test of their character as to how they bounce back from that.
“Whether it’s in Division 3 and we lose a match we thought we would have won or whether it’s in a Leinster Championship but we’ll deal with that in due course.”
Kildare return to action in Hawkfield tonight, when they play host to Louth, and O’Neill will start an almost completely different team from the weekend as he bids to look at as many players as possible.
He will finalise his panel for League within the next fortnight but will not work on a system of play until then because he wants the players to have the freedom to impress.
“I just wanted to look at as many players as I could. In Year 2 it will be vastly different but in Year 1 we brought in quite a large squad.
“They’ve been brilliant and they’re aware that after the initial stages of the O’Byrne Cup, when everyone is guaranteed at least one full 70-minute game, we’re going to make some cuts.
“We had quite an open game plan in terms of what we wanted from them because it’s such a fluid group, we don’t want to get too heavy on tactics… and then two weeks later unfortunately them not making the cut.
“We want hard work, we want effort, we want them to play at a high tempo, which is what I believe Kildare football should be about simply because of the players at their disposal.
“Their kick-passing has improved immensely in the last six-to-eight weeks.
“I want us to kick. I want us to be a kicking team.”
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