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5 thoughts as Jack O'Connor returns to Kerry for third stint

The former Kildare boss is Kerry manager again nine years after his second tenure ended.

jack-oconnor Jack O'Connor is returning to Kerry. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

1. Other contenders

IN THE EARLY days after Kerry’s exit at the All-Ireland semi-final stage, the most convincing argument for giving Peter Keane another year was the supposed lack of alternatives.

After the Kerry county board announced they were inviting applicants for the position, some were outraged on Keane’s behalf that he had been disposed of without so much as a word of thanks. 

But Keane threw his hat back into the ring for a new term with the same backroom team. Eamonn Fitzmaurice pulled out of the running at an early stage and Tomás Ó Sé did likewise by taking on a role as coach with Offaly. 

Jack O’Connor’s exit in Kildare indicated he would be Keane’s main challenger for the big job, until Stephen Stack emerged with an All-Star management team during the week. It included Mickey Ned O’Sullivan, Séamus Moynihan, Dara Ó Cinnéide and Donie Buckley, plus strength and conditioning coaches Joe O’Connor and Aidan O’Mahony. 

However, in the end Kerry’s five-man committee found a proven winner too hard to turn down.

2. No smoke without fire

The day after Tyrone dumped out Kerry, O’Connor admitted he fancied another crack at the Kerry job, comparing them to Man Utd.

A week later he announced his departure from Kildare, citing the long commute and the decision of his sons (former Moorefield players Eanna and Cian) to move back to Kerry. 

In late August, the noises emanating from Kildare suggested O’Connor was on board for a third year. The county had made steady progress under the Dromid Pearses man, having reached the Leinster final and achieved promotion to Division 1 in 2020. 

Once he vacated the Kildare job, it was obvious there was only one job O’Connor wanted.

As the Kerryman’s Paul Brennan pointed out on Twitter, “Jack O’Connor is back at Manchester United after a brief spell with Spurs.”

paddy-tally Former Down boss Paddy Tally. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

3. Backroom team

It may not be as fresh-looking as Stack’s star-studded ticket, but O’Connor’s set-up will include plenty of inter-county experience.

Rumours that Kieran Donaghy and Declan O’Sullivan were on board proved unfounded. Donaghy has committed to the Armagh project for another year and O’Sullivan will remain in the Kerry U20s hot seat (and is potentially being groomed as O’Connor’s successor).

Former goalkeeper Diarmuid Murphy is joining the camp, having worked as a selector under Fitzmaurice. Mike Quirke, who led Laois for the past couple of seasons, is a deep thinker of the game while the reported addition of recently departed Down boss Paddy Tally adds another layer of intrigue. 

Murphy and Quirke were the only names mentioned in last night’s statement from the county board. Tally and Colm Cooper are expected to be included, while an S&C coach could also come into the reckoning. 

declan-osullivan-hugs-manager-jack-oconnor Declan O'Sullivan hugs manager Jack O'Connor after Kerry's victory in 2006. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

4. Third time’s a charm

It’s almost unheard of for an inter-county manager to return for a third stint over a side. During his first spell as senior manager between 2004-06, O’Connor guided Kerry to two All-Irelands in three years.

He returned in 2009, lifting the Sam Maguire that year before departing at the end off 2012 after going three seasons without an All-Ireland. 

“It is a very tough environment,” he remarked on the Irish Examiner football podcast last month.

“I keep telling people this – I’m not bragging, I’m just giving you facts – in my first four years coaching Kerry were ’04, ’05, ’06 and ’09, I won three leagues, three Munster championships, three All-Irelands, I got the height of abuse. That’s a fact.”

So O’Connor knows better than anyone the pressure that comes with the gig. His four years in charge of the county minors and U20s means he has already forged relationships with key men David Clifford, Seánie O’Shea and Gavin White, among others.

Kerry have won just one All-Ireland since O’Connor left in 2012. During that time he’s worked with Kingdom underage sides, been involved with Moorefield on the club scene and stayed plugged into the senior inter-county game with Kildare for two seasons. 

It all led to a return to one of the most highly-pressurised jobs in Irish sport. O’Connor is bidding to bridge a 13-year gap by lifting the Sam Maguire as manager.

O’Connor noted in his autobiography ‘Keys to the Kingdom’ that a friend who worked in Killarney’s St Finian’s mental hospital once told him that “in a good year, when Kerry win the All-Ireland, admissions to the place go down.”

He continued, “A bad year is when we don’t win the All-Ireland.

“In Kerry, there’s wining and nothing else, there’s first place and nowhere.”

Only a good year will suffice in 2022. 

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jack-oconnor-with-eamonn-fitzmaurice Eamonn Fitzmaurice worked under O'Connor before he became Kerry boss. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

5. O’Connor’s style of management

O’Connor arrives into a Kerry team that many feel require a bit of steel in defence to get them over the line. 

When he took charge of the Kingdom in 2004, similar observations were made.

Recognising the rise of physical Ulster teams, Aidan O’Mahony and Paul Galvin were promptly introduced to the set-up. They duly became mainstays that backboned several All-Ireland winning sides.

He was the man who turned Kieran Donaghy from a lanky midfielder into the most fearsome full-forward in the game in 2006. Stumbling into a do-or-die qualifier clash with Longford, Kerry were coming off the back of a sickening Munster final replay defeat to Cork. 

O’Connor felt his team needed a spark. Even Donaghy had reservations about the move, but it went down in history and allowed talents like Cooper and Mike Frank Russell shine.

“We were totally deflated after the Cork game and Jack wanted to try something different,” Marc Ó Sé recalled last year on The42′s Warriors podcast.

“So he asked myself and Kieran Donaghy to stay back after training before the Longford game. He put Kieran on the edge of the square and he kicked a few high balls and low balls into Kieran and we kind of knew then we had a different plan.

“Kieran had never played inside before then so it was great thinking on Jack’s behalf. And what it did as well it took a bit of pressure off Mike Frank and the Gooch.”

O’Connor has retained a ‘no bullshit’ approach to management over the years. On a recent Examiner podcast, Eamonn Fitzmaurice told an entertaining story about his time as selector under O’Connor.

One player in the squad was failing to understand what was asked of him tactically in a certain position. After a session where the player just couldn’t grasp it, the management team discussed the matter. 

“He’s just not processing it, Jack,” the manager was told.

“It’s not that he’s not processing it,” O’Connor hit back, “it’s that he doesn’t have a processor.”

He’ll retain that no-nonsense attitude for his third stint in the job. 

About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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