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Dublin: 15 °C Wednesday 19 June, 2019

'What Jack O'Connor has done for young footballers in Kerry is outstanding'

The former minor boss is set to receive the Special Merit Award as part of the inaugural Electric Ireland GAA Minor Star Awards.

Jack O'Connor with his minor All-Ireland winners in 2015
Jack O'Connor with his minor All-Ireland winners in 2015
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

WHEN KERRY BEAT Donegal in September 2014 to win the Electric Ireland All-Ireland minor football title, they didn’t just lift the Tom Markham Cup, they also ended the longest drought in Kerry football history.

It had been 20 years since the Kingdom last won the minor championship and the man at the helm that day, Jack O’Connor, was already thinking of what the future might hold even through the echo of the final whistle.

“Winning breeds success and breeds confidence,” he told reporters after the game.

“In the 90s we won the minor in 1994 and we won three U21s between 1995 and 1998 and that fed the Kerry team for 10 or 12 years after that.

“We’re just hoping that the same happens now.”

Alan O'Sulivan, Jack O'Connor and Brian Rayel celebrate the final whistle O'Connor celebrates as Kerry end a 20-year minor drought in 2014. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The Mastergeehy-man couldn’t have been more correct in his assessment as Kerry have not lost a minor football championship game in four years.

For his role in that success, O’Connor is set to receive the Special Merit Award as part of the inaugural Electric Ireland GAA Minor Star Awards this weekend, but where did it all start for the 56-year old?

O’Connor first graced the national stage when his performances with Scoil Uí Chonaill in Cahersiveen saw him selected for the Kerry team that went on to win back-to-back All-Ireland Vocational Schools Championships in 1977 and 1978.

15 years later, he was manager of the Kerry team that achieved the same double.

The amalgamation of the three schools in Cahersiveen in 1999 led to the creation of Coláiste na Sceilge. O’Connor, a teacher by profession, combined his day job with his role as football coach and the team won the prestigious Corn Uí Mhuirí in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

Jack O'Connor celebrates at the final whistle O'Connor celebrates winning the senior All-Ireland in 2004. Source: INPHO

He was appointed the Kerry Senior football manager the same year and won All-Ireland titles in 2004 and 2006, as well as two Munster Championships and a pair of National League Division One titles.

O’Connor stepped down a month after winning his second Sam Maguire but returned to the role of senior manager in 2009 and had an immediate impact with Kerry lifting both the National League Division One and All-Ireland titles that year.

He would guide Kerry to two more Munster titles in his second spell before resigning in August 2012.

A year later O’Connor was appointed as Kerry minor manager and the rest is history with the Kingdom winning back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015 before he was given the U20 job in 2016.

Speaking ahead of his award this weekend, the President of the GAA, Aogán Ó Fearghail, said:

Jack O’Connor is an outstanding recipient for the first Electric Ireland Minor Star Special Merit Award.  What Jack has done for young footballers in Kerry is outstanding and his passion and commitment to the development of talent in the county is an example to every coach across the country in any sport.

“Jack has coached his teams to many trophies but silverware is only a minor part of player development and Jack’s commitment in following his players from minor to U21 just exemplifies his belief in the best path to help these players grow.”

While O’Connor himself was typically humble, focusing on the players instead of himself:

While I’ve had some amazing moments in the GAA across the years, being able to work with minor players and track their development through the ranks is incredibly rewarding.

“To be able to play a major part in these minor players’ development and see them grow as players and people is what being involved in sport is all about.”

This year Electric Ireland have launched the inaugural GAA Minor Star awards. Find out who the Minor Star Awards Players of the Year on Electric Ireland’s Facebook page on 7 October, and get involved in the conversation through #GAAThisIsMajor.

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