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Regrets over 2009, connecting with Kildare fans and coaching stints with Waterford and Sligo

The Kildare selector is embracing a new Leinster final role.

IT’S EIGHT YEARS since Kildare last stepped forward on the biggest day in the Leinster football calendar.

Selector now and player back then, Ronan Sweeney still nurses regrets over that 2009 decider when Kildare could not negotiate a way past a 14-man Dublin side.

Paddy Andrews and Barry Cahill with Ronan Sweeney Ronan Sweeney in action against Dublin in the 2009 Leinster final Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Even since that day I’d often think back on quite a bit because I think it was one that we really should have won.

“It was 15 against 14 for a large portion of the game and we couldn’t see it over the line which was disappointing. We had key moments in the game that went against us, whether it was poor execution or decision making, it cost us.

“Obviously Dublin were a lot more experienced at the time in terms of seeing out games. Still, it hurts, ’09, because that was one that we should have won.

“I don’t know if it was a psychological thing or what, we just didn’t use our extra man correctly. We didn’t really go at them.

“So it wasn’t a psychological thing, it was just poor play from us really, poor execution. That’s the killer, if you could go back and do it again you’d do it completely different.”

When he came on board as part of the Kildare management last winter, Sweeney spoke of the disconnect he had detected between the Lilywhites team and their band of supporters.

Clinching promotion from Divison 2 and clipping the wings of Laois and Meath in Leinster, have gone some way to addressing that.

“It’s taken a while because there was a big disconnect there over the last few years for whatever reason,” says Sweeney.

“I think to get the fans back on board, obviously the first thing you had to do was start to win some games, but also we had to play an attractive way and to get scoring and we’ve been doing that. We’ve been playing attacking football and we’re averaging 20, 21 points a game.

“There were a couple of league games, particularly in Newbridge where the crowd really got behind us, the Clare game in particular.

“There was a huge atmosphere there. That was the day we got promotion I think and the kids were out on the pitch. It’s only when you get away from it, when you’re not playing any more, that you really appreciate that sort of stuff.”

Ronan Sweeney Kildare selector Ronan Sweeney

Sweeney cut his teeth in the coaching arena with recent stints coaching the Waterford and Sligo footballers. Those spells proved instructive.

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“It couldn’t have went any better in terms of progress going into coaching. Waterford was a real learning curve for me. Sligo I really enjoyed as well.

“The one thing that stands out, that is really in my mind, is just knowing and having a sense of realism because in that Connacht final (in 2015) we obviously got a right drubbing.

“I’m talking about management, that because we’d beaten Roscommon in a semi-final, and Roscommon were a Division 1 team, that all of a sudden we were nearly at the same level as Mayo. But we weren’t.

“You’d have a huge amount of respect (for those players). Like, when you’re playing your whole career at a certain level, Division 2, Division 1, you don’t really think too much about what’s going on in Division 4 because you’re a little bit selfish about the whole thing.

“When you go into the county you have huge respect for the players that are up against it. There’s no support from anywhere really, a bit from the county board. Their club mates would nearly be laughing at them for committing to this thing that, ultimately, they’re not going to get any medals out of really.

“So you look at fellas a different way and say, ‘it’s tough going’. But it really opens your eyes to realise that there’s a lot more going on than what’s in the top few counties.”

Niall Carew and Ronan Sweeney Sweeney worked in Sligo alongside Niall Carew Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Yet the ambition was always to return to his home county.

“Absolutely, yeah. The white jersey, it stirs something up in you, it’s where you’re from.

“It just makes the blood a little hotter. Same with your club, you only have one club, you only have one county.

“​I think everyone is glad to be back in the final, there’s no doubt. There’s probably a bit more realism about it now.

“Back then we had probably gone from being in in ’07 and ’08, nowhere, and then in ’09 we were in a final and everyone expected us to be competing for All-Ireland’s.

“That wasn’t the case, we weren’t at that level. But I think now everybody has a sense of realism about where we’re at. I think Dublin being so strong makes that easier.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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