Who are the front runners to replace Cian O’Neill as Kildare boss?

September 19, 2021 0 By HearthstoneYarns

FIVE COUNTIES ARE now searching for new football managers, with Cian O’Neill and Damian McErlain the latest to step down from their positions. 

Cian O’Neill looks on during Kildare’s Leinster semi-final exit to Dublin earlier this year.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

They follow Paul McLoughlin (Wexford), Liam Kearns (Tipperary) and Malachy O’Rourke (Monaghan), who all resigned following their exits from the All-Ireland SFC earlier this summer.

O’Neill made the decision to step down following Kildare’s exit to Tyrone in the qualifiers, departing after four years at the helm. The highlight of his tenure was undoubtedly the ‘Newbridge or Nowhere’ backdoor defeat of a Mayo side who reached the All-Ireland final the previous September.

Kildare established themselves as a top-12 side under O’Neill. They gave a good account of themselves in the 2017 Leinster final, where they fell to a battling nine-point defeat to Dublin.

They bounced back impressively from shock provincial defeat to Carlow last summer to reach the Super 8s, following backdoor victories over Derry, Longford, Mayo and Fermanagh.

They were relegated from Division 1 in 2018 and finished this year’s Division 2 campaign in fourth place, three points off second-place Donegal. 

The 2019 championship was less successful. Kildare were hampered by the absence of Niall Kelly in the spring and Daniel Flynn’s decision not to commit, plus injuries to key men Kevin Flynn, Paul Cribbin, Eoin Doyle and Kevin Feely at various stages during the campaign.

Kildare star Daniel Flynn in action during the 2018 Super 8s.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

In the end, most within the county felt it was the right time for O’Neill to step aside, even though he had a year of his term left to run.

“Frustratingly we didn’t always reach our potential as a group,” O’Neill said in his resignation statement.

The vacant hot-seat is certainly an attractive position. The county’s U20s are the reigning All-Ireland champions and have provided a strong nucleus of players who’ll be expected to make the step up over the next few seasons.

Of the 21 players who saw action in the round 3 loss to Tyrone, just three of the victorious U20s from 2018 featured. Mark Dempsey started at corner-back, while Mark Barrett and U20 Footballer of the Year Jimmy Hyland came in off the bench. 

The new man will be expected to accelerate the progression of those U20s to the senior side. Kildare supporters are also excited about the potential of Moorefield attacker Adam Tyrrell, who sits in joint-second in the All-Ireland top-scoring list after a summer where his stock rose significantly.

Convincing former AFL player and 2018 All-Star nominee Daniel Flynn to commit next year will be the number one priority for O’Neill’s replacement.

Davy Burke, Malachy O’Rourke, Jack O’Connor and Glenn Ryan.

So who is the man to get the most out of this group? 

O’Rourke has stated his intention to take some time out of the inter-county game after seven years in charge of the Farney, but that hasn’t stopped him from being heavily linked with the Lilywhites job in recent days.

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If the lengthy journey to Kildare’s Centre of Excellence in Hawkfield isn’t a turn-off, he’d be an obvious choice to succeed O’Neill. Given what he achieved during his tenure in Monaghan, O’Rourke is likely to be in contention for several high-profile jobs over the next 12 months so he may opt to hold out for a bigger county.

The Fermanagh native is among the early front runners, alongside legendary Kildare defender Glenn Ryan and All-Ireland winning U20 boss Davy Burke. 

Former Lilywhites skipper Ryan, who managed Longford between 2009 and 2013, was in the running when O’Neill was appointed in 2015. Ryan previously guided the Kildare U21s to the Leinster title and All-Ireland final back in 2008, although it’s unclear at this stage if he wishes to be put forward for the job.

Another interesting prospect is current Sarsfields manager Burke. After leading his native county to the Leinster and All-Ireland U20 crowns last August at the age of 30, he opted not to remain in charge for 2019.

“Basically my decision boiled down to me wanting to push on and progress, and I felt that opportunity was not available within Kildare at the moment,” explained Burke last October.

“I would see himself as very progressive and innovative with regard to the way I’d go about managing a football team but the Kildare board and myself did not eye to eye in that regard.

“Even though we won the All-Ireland, there were a number of aspects relating to the team this year that I wasn’t happy with. This is something that you could tolerate for one year but definitely not for a second year.”

The Kildare team celebrate with the All-Ireland U20 title.

Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Burke’s assertion that he wanted to “push on and progress” suggested he had designs on the senior job, but there were also clearly some issues with the county board that needed to be resolved. 

Most recently, he was in charge of the Maynooth Freshers side alongside former great Johnny Doyle, another man who could be persuaded to get involved in some capacity. 

Moorefield manager Ross Glavin is the outstanding candidate on the club scene. He led the club to the Leinster club title in 2017 after a dramatic late victory over St Loman’s in the decider.

The most fascinating name to be linked with the role is certainly three-time All-Ireland winning manager Jack O’Connor. He has been actively involved in Glavin’s backroom team with Moorefield, where his sons Eanna and Cian play their club football. 

O’Connor is currently in charge of the Kerry U20s and was in the frame to replace Eamonn Fitzmaurice in the Kingdom after his resignation last year.

Elsewhere, UCD boss John Divilly – who won two All-Irelands as a player with Galway before spending one season lining out for Kildare – is another prospective option.  

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