WHEN it happened, the immediate reaction was that there must have been a fallout.
Why else would Niall Carew resign, just a matter of weeks after being confirmed as part of Kildare’s management for a sixth season with Kieran McGeeney? Taking on the job as Waterford manager two months later only confirmed the suspicion in the minds of many. He clearly didn’t leave for a better offer.
That’s true, he didn’t. But it’s false too. He didn’t leave for a better offer because there was no offer at the time of his departure from Kildare. It was false because, for Carew, at this time in his life, when the call did come from Waterford secretary Timmy O’Keeffe, it was exactly what he needed.
The sudden death of his father in August knocked him cold. Tony Carew was a hurling legend in Kildare but he was so much more than that to his family. Niall ran everything by him and even now, finds himself picking up the phone to give him a call, before realising that the most familiar and influential voice in his life is no longer around.
Going with the flow, he agreed to stay on once McGeeney was committed to doing so. But he realised that it wouldn’t be the right thing for him and by extension, for Kildare.
“When you lose someone that close to you, you tend to look at life quite differently,” says Carew. “I probably would have rowed in with Kildare even though I probably wouldn’t have been much help to the cause but when something like that happens, you do think clearer after six or seven weeks. You probably get a little bit selfish and think about what’s best for you.
“I felt I was getting a bit stale and after (my father died), I knew I needed something fresh and new for my own sake.
“When I finished up with Kildare after five years, I had given everything to that set-up and that particular group. I needed a different team to freshen me up as a coach and I know it’s a cliché, but the Kildare players needed a different voice to freshen up too. It was the right time to go.”
The respect and admiration he has for McGeeney is obvious. Carew had managed at Sigerson and club levels, but learned so much from McGeeney’s relentless thirst for improvement. More than that though, he regards the Mullaghbawn man as a friend and that made the decision more difficult.
So he decamped to New York to deliver the news in person. McGeeney was shocked and disappointed, and left Carew in no doubt about that. But there was no fallout.
“In fairness to Geezer, he had a lot of things in place as a manager… it would be the same as if Tony Kelly pulled out on me now. It’s a headache because you have plans for your backroom team and what they’re going to do. So of course he was annoyed.
“But at the end of it, he understood where I was coming from. We worked very closely together for five years and worked very hard together for the players. I would think that Geezer has a good bit of respect for me and I certainly have for him.”
Had Carew accepted any of the invitations from Dublin, Offaly and Kildare clubs, or the offer to be a selector/coach with a county team that has been in the mix for provincial honours regularly in the past few seasons, people wouldn’t have taken much notice.
But Waterford, despite making massive strides in terms of commitment, professionalism and performances in recent years, were still ranked by one newspaper recently as 31st out of 33 counties. So Carew leaving Kildare for the Déise raised red flags all over the place and secured a remarkable amount of media coverage.
He insists that it was a “no-brainer” though, an ideal opportunity to make a positive impact again.
“They underachieved last year but I’ve watched their progress since they were under Jackson (John Kiely) and Paul McLoughlin because I’d know Paul very well. We played them a few times in challenge games over the years and I thought Waterford had something to offer.
“I felt they did a good job and so did John Owens but they and the players didn’t get the recognition they deserved when they were promoted two years ago.
“The talent is in Waterford. Hopefully we can bring these lads on, progress and try and get performances each time we go out.”
That is the prime target in the first year at least. Waterford’s status would be very different if the narrow, hard-luck league defeats of the past couple of seasons in Divisions 3 and 4 could be turned into victories. Improving the disciplinary record will help there. After that, they will want to make a better fist of the championship.
“So far I have got a tremendous response. I’m only a few weeks in the job but the players are buying into everything. And we’ve got three weeks clear before championship games in Munster and the qualifiers, and that’s better than before, so the board are showing great commitment.
“As for being ranked 31 of 33, maybe that’s where Waterford are now but it’s my job to get them to climb the ladder and getting results is the only way to climb.
“It’s a massive challenge and I’m under no illusions. But in the last five or six years, Waterford have had about five different players that have represented Munster.
“You look at how Stradbally, The Nire and Ballinacourty have competed in the club championship, they’re always knocking on the door.
“Looking at the trials and training… potentially, it’s there and it’s up to us to harness that.”
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