Dominant Dubs

Cian O'Neill: 'Anyone who ever doubted them was incredibly naive or even stupid'

Dublin are as strong as ever in the eyes of the Kildare manager.

Cian O'Neill

CIAN O’NEILL SEES no point beating around the bush.

There may have been murmurs about what state the Dublin were in over the last while, suggestions that a league final loss to Kerry and an at times sluggish showing against Carlow, provided evidence of slippage.

But watching them rip Westmeath apart in last month’s Leinster semi-final and reach cruising speed as they delivered a 31-point win, the Kildare manager is in no doubt as to the scale of the challenge facing his side next Sunday.

​”Anyone who ever doubted them was incredibly naive or even stupid. This is one of the best teams in the modern era and they’ve obviously got a couple of more weeks of training under their belts, a couple of more players back in.

“When they got going they were absolutely phenomenal, their movement on the ball, off the ball, their work rate, intensity. They were incredibly impressive. I think anybody who stepped in their way would have been in trouble.

“It just reaffirmed what an incredible team they are and what great champions they have been. Listen, they’ve got a massive panel, one steps out and three steps in in terms of competition. They have a really strong management team and they have everything going for them.”

Ciaran Kilkenny celebrates scoring a goal with Paul Mannion Ciaran Kilkenny celebrates hitting the net for Dublin against Westmeath Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

O’Neill believes there has been a shift in Dublin’s approach on the pitch in 2017.

“If anything I think they’ve gone more defensive. I’m not sure who was there the last day but at times they had 15 men behind the ball. I’ve never seen that before with Dublin.

“It was interesting, where, at times in the match, and it wasn’t because Westmeath had 15 men up, there were still two or three Westmeath men back, so to see 15 Dublin players all behind the 45 metre line was interesting to me.

“But then the flipside of that is they’re so athletic and they’re skilful and full of pace that they can break at speed. So maybe that’s just an adaptation to the tactics that they’ve used in recent years.

“But are they more direct? I think they’re playing as well as ever. I don’t think they’re more direct particularly.

“I think when you have someone like (Eoghan) O’Gara in there, a target man, that can help a team to be more direct, and he came on the last day. I think their core values and the way they like to play the game hasn’t changed.”

Kildare can consider 2017 a success story to date. They achieved promotion from Division 2 and are back in the Leinster final for the first time in eight years.

Their provincial progress has come in the wake of their only major blip to date this year – April’s league final loss to Galway.

Cian O'Neill congratulates Sean Armstrong James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“For me, that was our Red Sea moment,” says O’Neill.

“I think in every season, there is a Red Sea moment, where it’s almost a light bulb moment, whereby player, management, backroom team all wake up to some type of realisation, whether it’s part of your game plan or attitude or what you need to do in training.

“And I think the team really tightened up after that and we realised that we had some good runs, some good wins in Division 2 but Galway were the best team we played by some distance in that final and we came up short.

“So I think that kind of was a reality that dawned on us. They’ve trained incredibly hard since.

“By and large, 80% of our team is 24 years and under, and that’s a really exciting place to be. Those guys are playing with a lot of energy, a lot of excitement and a lot of ambition.”

Cian O'Neill Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Jim Gavin’s post-match utterances sparked plenty debate after the Westmeath game but the Dublin manager’s remarks were not scrutinised by O’Neill.

“No I didn’t to be honest, because I was more concerned with what was happening on the pitch. That type of thing wouldn’t really interest me to be perfectly honest.

“What happens once that ball is thrown in is the most important thing and everything else around that is just noise.

” I think every manager has to do what he or she feels is the right thing to do at the right time. That comes down to making substitutions, taking players off, what you do in training.

“I’m not sure the background to it but, no, I’m sure Jim what he felt was best at the time.”

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