O'Connor still enjoying coaching adventures
By Cian O'Connell
Fintan O’Connor laughs when asked about the enjoyment that can be derived from coaching and managing.
The Kerry hurling manager relishes different challenges and his passionate work with so many club and college teams in recent years brings significant satisfaction.
Regardless of the level O'Connor just takes pleasure from trying to improve players. Lessons will be learned, something can always be attained. “I love it and I'm lucky enough that my wife gives me a free pass at times, maybe she likes to see the back of me,” O’Connor jokes.
“I love being involved with teams, it is nice and I suppose I'm nearly obsessive. In my involvement I nearly love it so much I'd be afraid that I sometimes bug the lads about it. Sometimes I think it is nearly better for me to be involved in two teams so I can split my obsessiveness so it was nice to be involved with WIT in the Fitzgibbon.
“That probably left the Kerry lads off. If I was just focusing on one team I'd be always afraid I'd overdo it with them so it is nice to split up my thinking at times.”
A former Waterford selector under Derek McGrath, O’Connor remains thoroughly stimulated by Kerry, who contest an interesting Allianz Hurling League Division 2A decider against Westmeath at Cusack Park in Ennis on Sunday.
“I'm hugely excited by the lads in Kerry, I love going down to them,” O’Connor admits. “It is a really enjoyable project, I suppose and you're trying to get them up to the level I feel they deserve to be at.
"I think, no different to Offaly, Westmeath, Antrim or Laois, you are striving to make them better, to get them up to that level. There are unbelievably gifted hurlers in all those counties so it is about giving them a shop window to show their skills to the world.”
One area O’Connor wanted to assist Kerry with was integrating emerging talent into the senior inter-county arena. Shane Conway’s exploits in the Electric Ireland Fitzgibbon Cup are well documented and O’Connor is adamant that Kerry can improve further.
“Yeah, I think huge strides are being made in Kerry at juvenile and underage in clubs and academy level within the county with the development squads,” O’Connor states.
“That is seen by Shane Conway playing Fitzgibbon this year, we had another chap Barry Mahony, who was captain of LIT Freshers. Some really, really good hurlers are coming up in Kerry. That bodes well for the future, but you want the now too. So you are trying to integrate the lads for the future with the lads for the now. It is about getting the balance right.”
Westmeath and Kerry aspire to operate in Division One which is the prize for winner this weekend with O’Connor acknowledging the importance of the game.
“It would be a huge test for the lads to be up against those Division One teams,” O’Connor admits. “You have 10 teams that are very, very strong so to be up competing would definitely be the way forward for Kerry hurling.
“I presume Westmeath feel the exact same about it so it should be a titanic struggle at the weekend with both teams really looking to have a cut at Division One next year. I suppose there is a huge amount to play for at the weekend.”
Taking that step, though, can be particularly difficult. “It probably comes down to playing against those teams at the top level more often,” O’Connor responds.
“We are lucky we get to play against the likes of Tipperary and Limerick early on in the Munster League. That is a really exciting competition for our lads because it is lovely to pit our wits against the likes of the Corks and Limericks and Tipperarys.
“It is probably the only opportunity we've got to play against them in the last number of years. That is why the weekend is so important because you'd love to get that chance in a more competitive environment of the League next year.”
The Joe McDonagh Cup provides counties with a real opportunity with the inaugural year in 2018 proving to be extremely worthwhile with the standard of matches high.
“I would agree with that hugely, I think it is massively competitive,” O’Connor remarks. “The Joe McDonagh Cup last year was unbelievably competitive. In all the games there was only a point or two in it either way.
“Carlow were deserving winners, Westmeath were probably unlucky, they came up short in the Final and the League Final last year. There are some serious teams in it. Offaly will add to that this year, Laois seem to be going very well, they have a League Quarter-Final to look forward to against Limerick.
“They are making huge strides and if you were to have any quibble with it is that maybe it doesn't get the coverage it deserves at times.”
O’Connor will continue his efforts to put Kerry on the grand stage and following four wins in five games something is stirring down south. “It is lovely to be involved for an extra week, it is a bonus game,” O’Connor comments.
“Being involved in a League Final with the carrot of going up against all the big boys next year is a massive, massive plus.”
Another hurdle O’Connor wants to clear.