Fintan O'Connor: 'This is where you want to be'
By Cian O'Connell
It has been a hectic fortnight for Fintan O’Connor, who is relishing the opportunity to manage the Kerry hurlers in 2017.
During the past decade O’Connor has emerged as an interesting figure in the hurling world enjoying success at different levels with Blackwater Community School, Waterford IT, Cappoquin, and Ballybacon-Grange.
For the last two years O’Connor worked as a selector with Waterford, who have progressed impressively under Derek McGrath’s stewardship.
O’Connor is adamant that it was a really good environment in which to serve an inter-county apprenticeship. “Of course it was,” O’Connor admits.
“In fairness to Derek, he is such a humble person, he wouldn't see himself as a major guru, but I would definitely see him like that. I think he is excellent in what he does, he is very open, he does his stuff, he is even supportive now.
“If I want to ring him, to talk to him to pick his brains, he has been a huge support to me. It was a massive compliment to me to be involved with Waterford for the past few years.
“It was a really enjoyable experience, but it was a great learning curve for me too seeing how it worked at that level. Working with Dan (Shanahan) and Derek and all of the lads in Waterford taught me an awful lot.”
Now O’Connor wants to use the valuable lessons that were learned with Kerry, who have responded well on the training field to his early promptings.
“It is brilliant, this is where you want to be, it is lovely to get a chance at this level.
“It has been very positive so far, the lads are putting in a massive effort. They have to because we are playing in the Munster Senior League, starting on Sunday against Cork.
“I only really got appointed the Saturday before Christmas so at this time of year you are trying to fit things in around the holidays. You have to be realistic with people's lives and their families, we just did bits and pieces over Christmas so we are really only getting back into it. For me it is wicked exciting.”
Four demanding matches await Kerry in the Munster Senior Hurling League against Cork, Clare, Limerick, and Waterford, but O’Connor is ‘looking forward’ to the challenge.
“In fairness the teams we are playing some of them have changed manager too so all the players will be out to prove a point.
“That is what we are facing into, I'm sure Cork will feel like they want to prove themselves after last year. They will have a lot of young guys in, who will be trying to put their hand up for selection. We are looking forward to facing it, but we are apprehensive a little bit as well.”
Kerry secured and preserved Allianz Hurling League Division 1B status and O’Connor wants to build on the solid foundation that has been laid by Eamonn Kelly and Ciaran Carey.
“Once you get a level of commitment and a level of effort from them you'd be happy. Then you can see where that level of commitment will take you.
“Of course you want to build on the good work that the lads, Eamonn Kelly and Ciaran Carey, have done during the past few years, guys like Mark Foley were involved too. We want to try to build on the success they've had, that is definitely the aim.
“Ideally you want to stay up in 1B and be successful, but once you are performing well and trying your best and getting the best out of lads as a group you'd be happy. Then you just have to see where that brings you.”
Former Tipperary star Brendan Cummins will act as Kerry’s goalkeeping coach in 2017 and O’Connor is delighted with that development.
“We are involved in the same club, Ballybacon-Grange, he lives about four or five miles from me,” O’Connor says. “It is nice to have someone that is so close to you working with you.
“He has extensive experience at the highest level of the game, he is involved in analysing games and hurling is his life. He loves it and is involved in it, he has huge experience so it is great to lean on that as well.”