Kildare need to set the bar at a height they are going to achieve; goals have to be set at a height but they have also to be achievable; we are not going out and win a Leinster or All-Ireland title with Dublin still around; that is not going to happen; the goal has to be set realistically.
The words of former Kildare defender and successful U21 Lilies manager Peter McConnon.
A Round Towers man, Peter played for Kildare for all of nine years and but for a persistent knee injury would probably have been involved with the Voyage of '98 yet having decided to walk away two years before that infamous journey, Peter nevertheless was a big part of two of The Towers most successful years, winning senior football champion-
ships in '96 and again two years lager.
These days, apart from his role with An Garda Siochána where he is Crime Prevention Officer in counties Carlow and Kilkenny, Peter is a GAA Analyst with local with Kildare's local radio station Kfm, a role he loves and one he says he almost fell into by accident.
“I was on crutches in Carrick-on-Shannon on a rotten, miserable cold day; Pat Costello was doing commentary for CKR and got me in out of the cold; and then asked me for a few words during the commentary which seemed to go down well; did it for a few more games before I want back playing after the injury and then when I finished playing was asked to do it and it kept me very close to the action after retiring; kind of eased me away from the playing side to the analysis side of things; which was nice.”
Peter enjoy the analysis but as I know the effort that every player has put in to get on to that team, fully aware of that and I don't want to go out and ridicule a player for making a mistake, they are all trying their best; all giving it their all and that is very important to remember; they are all amateurs; but they are there because they are talented players.
“I like being honest and people I believe like that; you can make fair and genuine comment that is not being disrespectful to a player; it's a collective effort by a player and the management; if a player has an off day he has an off day but sometimes I might say after missed scoring opportunity that it should have been a score but it wasn't; or a player should have moved in to get a tackle in or whatever; you call it as you see it; you are not trying to make anything else out of it and I don't think we should go down any other road.
“ I don't like this game keeper turned poacher mentality that does sometimes creep into analysis in GAA at present; I don't like that and would not go down that road; I would rather step away from it; I was there; I made mistakes; yes I was told, but I took that as a healthy respect; if someone told me I made a mistake, I'd say, yes I did, but the way I'd look at it was they are telling me I made a mistake because they believed I was good enough not to have made that particular mistake; that's the way I looked at it rather from a purely critical point of view, if you know what I am saying.”
And what does this experienced player make of today's Kildare side?
I do believe Kildare need to be playing Division 1 football, dining at the top table; with the current situation it is not going to be easy this year but please God we will get out of this (pendamic) and return to the structure that we knew; top eight teams in Division 1; next eight in Division 2 etc and Kildare need to be Division 1 rubbing shoulders with the top teams week-in and week-out and that is what improves a team.
“Kildare need to set the bar at a height they are going to achieve; goals have to be set at a height but they have also to be achievable; we are not going out to win a Leinster or All-Ireland with Dublin still in it; that is not going to happen; the goal has to be set a realistic height.”
This is Jack O'Connor's second year in charge, last year with coronavirus everything was all over the place, do you think this season is going to be any different?
Jack O'Connor is a top class manager, says Peter, adding “ he knows his stuff; hands on, eyes on the ground; a bit of a shake up in his backroom team this year which might be a little disruptive; Ross (Glavin) will be a huge loss; I had Ross when I managed Kildare to a Leinster U21 in 2004 and he was such a valuable part of that set-up; a 19-year-old so valuable his attitude to players around him was outstanding; he always had the potential to go on and achieve something in management.
“I like what he does on the sideline; if someone does something wrong during a game there is no waiting until half time to get it addressed; Ross is on the field and trying to get that corrected immediately, there and then and that is good and if Ross is not doing that this year then Kildare need someone to fill that role; none of this waiting until half time to address a particular situation; selectors are there for a reason; no use being there like a puppet; you have to have a very defined role and be capable of carrying out a role.”
Peter readily admits that when he left the county scene he did so with no medals but is quick to point out the county team at that time did make progress of what had gone immediately before us.
“We got to the League final in 1991; Leinster final in 92 and 93 but for me the highlight was the fact that we came from such a low position to being serious contenders; and capable beating the best teams around at that time.
“The milestones for me as getting to the League final, although bitterly disappoint-
ed not to win; getting to two Leinster finals, again bitter disappointment but bridging that gap of 14 or 16 years when Kildare did not reach a Leinster final; the euphoria around; the craic around the place.”
Beaten Dublin in the League in Newbridge was another milestone, first in something like 20 years while the home record Kildare built up at that time was something all Kildare players (and supporters) were extremely proud of.
“ At that time Newbridge was an absolute fortress; we went five years without losing a game in Newbridge, in Division 1; you had All-Ireland champions (Down) coming there and losing; Dublin couldn't beat us in Newbridge; Kerry couldn't beat us in Newbridge; and we were able to go away from home and more than hold our own; yes we failed to get over the line on the big day, for whatever reason, but we were serious contenders at all levels.
“Then Leitrim beat us in Newbridge, Micko's first game in charge but after that we went on a winning streak in Newbridge until Derry beat us with a last minute point against Derry in 1995; Seamus Downey kicked a miraculous point; it was like a dagger through your heart; it hurt as we knew we had lost our record at home.”
Most agree, including Jack O'Connor, that playing Division 1 football is vital, something the Kerry man said from the word go but does Peter McConnon believe that is possible in 2022?
“They (Kildare) are capable of getting out of the division” quickly adding “the opening game, against Cork, is a huge game. They (Cork) are a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde side; they looked like they were on their way after defeating Kerry last year but them imploded; look who would have though you'd see Cork in Division 3; it is a while since they were at the top table but after beaten Kerry they were not capable of backing it up in any shape or form; they are beatable.
“Kildare have a decent record against Cork in recent times; a winnable game, and the way it is set up this year you have to win that opening game. It is Kildare's biggest game if you get over it you are on the road, if you don't win, well ... all three games are winnable; Kildare love Portlaoise and Clare in Newbridge is nothing like playing Clare in Ennis.”
Kildare have been the second best team in Leinster for nearly a decade; win your early games and then get a crack at Dublin in some shape or form and be able to say ‘I need to get close those fellas’ but I do believe there is capability in this Kildare team; we can't offer any excuses; we have the manager we want; going for an outside manager no one better; going internal is a different kettle of fish; decision was made to go outside; they got who they wanted so no excuses in that regard.”
The thing that worries McConnon is the fact, in his opinion, they (Kildare) don't have a marquee forward while there are still question marks around certain vital defensive positions.
“We don't have players in pivotal positions unlike other teams and by that I mean we don't have a Johnny Doyle that will consistently kick five or six points in every game; players such as Conor McManus in Monaghan; David Clifford in Kerry; Cillian O'Connor in Mayo; all who will put six or seven points a game and then other lads chipping in as well; we don't have that type of player that is capable of doing it, not just today, but the next day and the daft after than; Johnny Doyle was a player that did that and we don't have that; we don't have a real natural centre half or indeed natural full back at the moment; we are playing lads in pivotal positions with the county team that are not playing in those positions with their club; not a good scenario, but having said that in a division with just four teams, the opening game is always going to be vital and in the case of Kildare that happens to be Cork and a vital, vital game and can you imagine what a win would do for the players' confidence.”
Unfortunately no crowds, yet, but Kfm listeners can be sure Peter McConnon will be on hand (along with Ger McNally) to give his fair and honest appraisal of what is happening on the field of play throughout the season.
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