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Changing as a Kerry manager, return from AFL and retirements, the All-Ireland title wait

Jack O’Connor on his return to the Kerry football hotseat.

Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

NINE YEARS AFTER his departure as Kerry senior manager, Jack O’Connor has returned to the hotseat.

His third go at the role was ratified last Monday night and then yesterday evening in Tralee, his latest reign was official launched.

O’Connor dealt with the manner of his exit from Kildare and appointment in Kerry, hot topics which have garnered a lot of attention over the last month, along with explaining why he has recruited Paddy Tally, a figure well versed in Ulster football, to coach the Kingdom.

And the Kerry boss discussed plenty topics during the media briefing at Austin Stack Park.

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Changing as a manager since last in charge of Kerry…

“I would openly admit that when I went in in 2004, I felt under ferocious pressure because of the man I was replacing a legend like Paidi.

“I think that I’m better able keep things in perspective now. I don’t take criticism as personally as I used to that time. I’m not saying that I like criticism, but I can deal better with it. I’d be a bit more thick-skinned than I used to be. And I now know the areas where you need to direct your energy.

“I think I was going into a lot of areas when I first became manager that really weren’t that productive from the point of view of helping the team or whatever. I don’t want to go into too much detail there, but you learn techniques over the years.

“There’s a saying that you get 80% of your results from 20% of your effort. And you need to know where to plug in to that effort. I’ve even found out in the last few years that you get ferocious gains from mana-managing players, from spending time talking to players one on one.

“I would have done a good bit of that in Kildare and I feel it worked dividends. And I feel now that I have the time to spend doing that kind of work. Because it’s a tough environment. Particularly in Kerry for players.

“There’s all kind of expectation and they have their own issues and sometimes just sitting down with somebody and letting them tell you what their issues are, suddenly you know them better as people. Not just players that you see three or four times a week.”

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The impact Paddy Tally will have on O’Connor’s football philosophy… 

“I was involved in the Kerry techs in ‘92 and ‘93. So look, what kind of football do you think those teams played starting then and all the way up?

“So I’m hardly going to change at this hour of my life and go all defensive. Listen, sure of course that narrative will be out there. I’m managing the team.

“My old friend Johnny Culloty said to me one time, he said, ‘Jack, it’s not enough just to win in Kerry, you’ve to win with a bit of style’. That’ll be our intention.”

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The additions of Diarmuid Murphy and Mike Quirke…

“Look, I was involved with Diarmuid before. Very solid guy. Great head for the game. He was involved with the Dingle club so he’s at the coalface. Very calm character. Very bright guy.

“Mike has a lot of experience. He’s a coach with the Kerry county board, a GDA. He’s had experience of managing his club team down here and managing an inter-county team and he will bring a lot to the table as well.

“It only occurred to me the other day that there will be three current inter-county managers in my set-up – I was managing myself, Mike was managing and Paddy was managing. We’re bound to have learned something unless we’re very dim.”

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Kerry’s wait for an All-Ireland title since 2014…

“I was involved in ‘97 when it was won after 11 years and that was a ferocious famine altogether. Sure the natives always get anxious down here when you’re not winning it and every year the pressure ramps up a bit.

“But I think one of the aims that I’d be having and the management would be having is to try and dampen down the pressure. We all have our own expectations but sometimes we put too much pressure on players. They’re amateur players. They have to try and enjoy the game.

“Sometimes I think we’re awful demanding here. We’ll be trying to come up with ways of keeping the heat off players. I don’t mind taking a bit of heat myself if it deflects off players.”

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The elder statesmen in the Kerry squad…

“It’s always a case of having a mix. The experience that these fellas have built up over the years and the leadership that they develop, you can’t suddenly just throw that into the waste paper basket and we’re going to have a clean sweep here. It doesn’t work like that.

“It’s a collaborative thing. If they say they’re mad for road and you see them going well in club matches and whatever, sure there isn’t a debate then. So that remains to be seen. I literally haven’t seen these guys even playing club football yet and I look forward to doing it in the next few weeks.”

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Stefan Okunbor’s return from AFL…

“He had a lot of potential. The second last game was out here in Austin Stack Park, where he was full-back against Cork marking that big guy who went to Australia, Mark Kean, and got man-of-the-match that evening and finished up getting Munster (U20) player of the year in 2018.

“He has fantastic athleticism but he has been away from the game for two or three years and it remains to be seen has he still got the ball skills. I am looking forward to watching him playing with his club Na Gaeil in the next week or so. When Tadgh Kennelly came up it took him quite a while to get to grips with the round ball again.”

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Are the inter-county careers of Peter Crowley and James O’Donoghue over?

“I have no idea whether they are or not because I have seen no club football but I intend to watch a lot of club football over the next couple of months. We will make a decision then in conjunction with the management on who is up to it and who is not.

“Every year you are involved with a squad you are certainly looking to strengthen that squad and bring a bit of freshness to the squad. Not just older players but I am talking about younger players as well that you see something in.

“We’ll be on the lookout for players who can improve the squad. Are those players out there? I think there might be a couple out there. Are there more than a couple? That remains to be seen in the weeks ahead. The way the Kerry county championship works, there’s always a few players who put up their hands.

“The way the game is gone these days, the middle eight is really critical to the way it’s played. Those players have to be savage athletes, Roy Keane type players. You have to earmark certain types of players for those roles.”

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The Special Congress proposals for the football championship…

“Look, to be honest with you, I haven’t done much thinking about it and I would need to consult with Tim (Murphy, chairman) there and the county board and players as well.

“But my instinct is telling me that on the face of it, it looks like plan B is the best option. I’m not so sure that it’s going to get through because in the provinces where the provincial championship is very competitive, they’re going to be slow letting that go. With that proposed plan the provincial championships would be maybe akin to the pre-season tournaments, if they’re not linked to the Championship they will lose some of their lustre.

“So I’m not too sure any of those proposals are going to get through, to be honest.”

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Appeal of returning to Kerry post…

“I like being involved in the game. I still have the interest, I have the energy. More importantly, I now have the time because I am retired to put all my energies into this.

“In many ways it’s a dream come true for me to get back working with the lads I worked in 2014 and ’15.

“It would complete the circle for me if I could bring senior success to those lads. At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about. That’s what developing minor team is about: bringing them to senior and making winning seniors out of them.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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