Cian O'Neill wants Kildare to become more consistent
By Cian O'Connell
Achieving the requisite level of consistency is an issue which has caused Kildare problems throughout the past couple of decades.
Talented footballers have been crafted, significant scalps taken, but Lilywhites manager Cian O'Neill acknowledges that acquiring belief and momentum is critical.
Last year's Championship journey featuring a most disappointing defeat in Leinster to Carlow before being followed by a gutsy run through the qualifiers into the All Ireland Quarter-Final Group Phase.
"I think the biggest blight on Kildare - I suppose you could go back 19 years to 2000 really - has been the inconsistency of performances," O'Neill says.
"In the late noughties there when there was serial quarter final appearances there was defeats to Wicklow and Louth in the first round of Leinster and they bounce back and have great back door series.
"Under Jason Ryan’s time they beat Cork in Thurles but the next week they are beaten by seven goals by Kerry. In my own time we put in a decent performance against Dublin and two weeks later underperform in a last 12 match it’s that inconsistency that has been a killer."
O'Neill turns to the 2018 campaign to illustrate his point further. "And last year was probably the best example to lose the way we did early on and then bounce back," O'Neill adds.
"Is it psychological? There’s obviously a part of that no question. Is there a belief issue? That’s something we are constantly trying to work on. "Belief in it most pure form can only really be developed by consistent success and performance and if that isn’t there then that has an impact on belief.
"I never think its just one thing, it’s a combination of things. The psychology of it the belief aspect is a huge part."
The heavy burden of expectation can be difficult to deal with for Kildare. "I think that’s a good point and if you look back at those defeats we talked about a lot of them are matches that you are expected to win and some of the big coups are matches where you are underdogs so that’s a fair point, yeah," O'Neill responds.
"I suppose a lot of it you can trace it back to are we getting the translation from and its only recent years where there has been success at underage, but is the translation of the systems and beliefs from underage level transferring to senior?
"Because they are totally different games, maybe there is a transition thing we need to look at as well about the expectation of how you did here against young men of your own age is very different than what’s expected at senior.
"I think that’s something that can be looked at and now is a very ripe time for that because we have so many guys from last year’s 20s coming in."
That was a notable success for Kildare, but O'Neill doesn't want to put too much duress on an emerging collection of footballers, who face Wicklow in the Leinster Senior Football Champoinship on Saturday evening at Netwatch Cullen Park. "It depends on what you determine or what you mean to get from them," O'Neill remarks.
"People need to remember these guys were 19-year-olds last year playing against other 19-year-olds. What a fantastic season, what a fantastic achievement. Four of that team were already on the senior squad as it happened, Aaron O'Neill, Aaron Masterson, Mark Dempsey and Jimmy Hyland, we just released them for the Under 20 Championship when at least two of them could have played Senior Championship. So they would have had a good training introduction last year anyways, we brought in a further five this year as well."
There is talent coming through in Kildare, but it is critical to nurture them properly according to O'Neill. "I mean in training they've been great, but no more than Niall (Kelly) coming back having been away for four months, these guys are going to need an escalation period where they're progressively getting bigger, getting stronger, learning to play against not just bigger, more mature, experienced men," O'Neill comments.
"I think what you would have seen last year in the Under 20 Championship was a very open Championship. I mean the Leinster final, the game was wide open, the All-Ireland semi-final from a forward's perspective there was no sweeper, no defensive systems, Jimmy (Hyland) made hay all day.
"Then you would have thought right that'll be different in the final and Mayo went and did exactly the same thing. Then you come into senior this year and we're playing against teams who have 13 men behind the ball.
"So that in itself is a real challenge because they have to adapt and kind of re-define their game. That's what they've been doing all year. They've all got League football, some more than others and they've contributed hugely.
"Whether anyone steps up to make a debut, that's the next challenge for them. Whether anyone sustains it across the Championship, only time will tell."