Cian O’Neill and Kildare taking nothing for granted after last year
Manager wary of Wicklow clash given Lilywhites’ inconsistent track record
Cian O’Neill: “This year we need to get our preparations right and then perform. That’s the challenge.” Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho
One of these days some county manager might step out of line and admit he’s already looking past their next game, only it won’t be Cian O’Neill, not right now anyway.
Given Kildare made the All-Ireland football Super-8s last summer, O’Neill could consider a similar run the least of their ambitions for 2019. However with Division Four side Wicklow awaiting them in Sunday’s first round of the Leinster championship, he’s thinking only about the here and now.
There’s also the reminder of last year’s Leinster quarter-final, where Kildare were turned over by Carlow for the first times since 1953, before going on a qualifier winning run that saw them beat Derry, Longford, Mayo and Fermanagh to make the Super-8s.
“After the start to our championship last year, we really can’t have any aspirations without getting past game one,” says O’Neill.
“Of course when you are in the Super 8s the year before you would see that as the standard you want to set the next year. Otherwise you have regressed, I think that’s a fair assumption. But if you start looking that far forward you can lose sight of the step in front of you.
“I can tell you we definitely didn’t look too far last year. It was just one of those things that happened, we got caught on the day, for a variety of reasons. But we are not going to let them same thing happen us this year, in terms of performing on the day.
“All our preparations were spot on last year, we just didn’t perform. This year we need to get our preparations right and then perform. That’s the challenge for any team going into the championship.”
In his fourth season as Kildare manager, having originally agreed to three, O’Neill also reflects on a league campaign that didn’t go entirely to plan. After being relegated to Division Two last year, their ultimately healthy championship suggested a swift return, only it wasn’t to be, finishing fourth. No prizes for guessing why.
“I think the biggest blight on Kildare over the last 19 years, since 2000 really, has been the inconsistency of performances. In the late noughties, when there was serial All-Ireland quarter final appearances, there was defeats to Wicklow and Louth in the first round of Leinster, and they bounce back. have a great back door series.
“Under Jason Ryan’s time they beat Cork in Thurles but the next week they are beaten by seven goals by Kerry. In my own time we put in a decent performance against Dublin and two weeks later underperform in a last 12 match. It’s that inconsistency that has been a killer.
“And last year was probably the best example to lose the way we did early on and then bounce back. Is it psychological? There’s obviously a part of that no question. Is there a belief issue? That’s something we are constantly trying to work on.
“Belief in it most pure form can only really be developed by consistent success and performance and if that isn’t there then that has an impact on belief. I never think it’s just one thing, it’s a combination of things. The psychology of the belief aspect is a huge part.”
Kildare last won a Leinster title in 2000, are 16/1 this year, given the potential Dublin semi-final pairing. That would be looking too far ahead, but in the meantime O’Neill is cautious for other reasons, given All Star nominee Daniel Flynn is not involved right now, and the injuries to captain Eoin Doyle, Paul Cribbin and Kevin Flynn.
External expectations, he says, can’t become a factor either.
“My wife who studies psychotherapy has often said what other people think is none of your business. So you have to take that on board as a coach or player.
“As indifferent as the league was, had we won our last match we would have been promoted and Donegal wouldn’t have been. So as poor as we probably were in some of those matches we were still going into the last round with a chance of getting promoted which is a positive thing from a mindset perspective preparing for championship.”