Kevin Feely hails Jack O'Connor's immediate impact
By John Harrington
Kevin Feeley says Jack O’Connor has already made a positive impression as Kildare’s new football team manager.
O’Connor steered Kerry to three All-Ireland titles as Kerry manager in 2004, 2006, and 2009, so had instant credibility as soon as he walked into the Kildare dressing-room.
“Sometimes its nice to just freshen things up altogether and he's a big change in that regard,” says Feely.
“He brings so much experience and he had the instant respect of the squad from what he's done in the game already and stuff like that.
“That wasn't an issue, respect. And then his training sessions have been a breath of fresh air, lads seem to be really, really enjoying them, although most of them are running at the moment. Pre-season stuff tends to be like that.
“No, really, really enjoying it so far.”
O’Connor is currently working with a panel of over 50 players as he casts the net far and wide to find footballers he thinks are good enough to make an impact at the highest level.
For the past three weeks competitive in the panel has been intense with everyone keen to catch the eye of their new manager.
“Everyone is, not on edge, but so eager to impress,” says Feely. “Without even knowing much about him you want him to think you're good because of what he's done in the game, straight away.
“We've got a huge panel at the moment. Because he's new to the Kildare scene he has to get a whole view of all of the club scene in Kildare so it's a really big panel at the moment.
“The new lads coming in has made the established guys think, 'Jesus, I need to up my game'.
“Not only to keep your place on the squad, but to impress someone with Jack's reputation. Yeah, in that regard everyone's standard and level has gone up automatically.
“With the guys who were there last year, there’s a real feeling that we need to rectify what went wrong last year as well.
“We didn’t have a great year, the players would have felt that we let ourselves down a good bit as well so there’s enthusiasm from the new lads and then there’s a determination from the lads that have been there to rectify the errors of previous years as well.”
By Feely’s admission, last year Kildare “didn’t even play close to our potential in one game in the entire championship”.
An inability to fulfil their potential is an accusation that has been levelled at these Kildare players more than once in the past, and Feely knows they need to answer that criticism in 2020.
“We seem to be consistently a middling team, if that makes sense,” he says.
“Whenever we get into the top eight teams in the country, we seem to either give a brilliant performance and get a brilliant win, or else we crumble under the pressure.
“I’d love a little bit more consistency in that regard but we’re probably a little bit behind that at the moment. Our major aim will be getting out of Division 2 and getting back up into that upper echelon.
"In some regards, we need to be more consistent but we need to first establish a higher standard before we even think about that.
“If you look at the year we spent in Division 1, we lost every game but we were competitive in every game and we were very much battle-hardened then coming into the championship and we ended up getting to the Super 8s and having some decent performances there as well.
“Last year, in Division 2 we set a poor kind of baseline standard, we didn’t blow away any teams, we were beaten by teams that we probably felt we shouldn’t have been beaten by, and then our championship form reflected our league.
“So getting a really good start in the league is going to be crucial to even give ourselves that bit of belief and confidence that we are a top-eight team or we have intentions of becoming a top-eight team.
“So I think a really good start to the year is really important.”