It was always going to be a stiff task for injury-hit Kildare, and as many had predicted, Jack O’Connor’s men weren’t able to secure an unlikely Leinster final success at Croke Park at the beginning of August. However, there were plenty of positives to take from the Championship, and fans can be relatively pleased with their team’s progress this summer. The aforementioned O’Connor has also agreed to stay at the club and the three-time All-Ireland winner will be determined to take the Lilywhites to the next level in 2022.
It will be the 60-year old’s third season in charge, although the stop-start nature of the disrupted 2020 campaign has to be taken into account. As well as reaching the Leinster final, O’Connor also led his side to Division 1 of the Allianz Football League for 2023 and he has also improved a number of players including former AFL-star Daniel Flynn. Having declared that ‘the best is yet to come’ from the 26-year old, O’Connor will need to ensure that the forward avoids further injury woe and remains motivated throughout 2022.
With a hugely talented pool of players to call upon next season and with the possibility of one or two new faces breaking through over the next 12 months, expectations are understandably high and O’Connor will be expected to deliver success. There will be plenty of Kildare fans and GAA punters who will fancy betting on O’Connor’s men to go one step further next season and if they can maintain their momentum, they should be extremely hard to beat. Keeping his players on the pitch and avoiding any frustrating niggly injuries will undoubtedly be key to their progress. Although they invariably fell short in 2021, there is plenty of positivity surrounding Kildare and the manager’s commitment to the cause is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. Despite this, the majority of betting sites in Ireland are unlikely to price the Lilywhites up as favourites. It will take a monumental effort to knock the all-conquering Dublin off their perch next summer, however, with a fully-fit squad, there is every chance that O’Connor’s men could spring a surprise and clinch their first Leinster Senior Football Championship since 2000.
Speculation Surrounding O’Connor’s Future
With the experienced gaffer having entered the final year of his three-year contract, there was plenty of speculation surrounding his future. Having admitted that he would be open to a return to Kerry. O’Connor has already enjoyed two successful stints in charge of The Green and Gold and achieved cult status in Munster. He cites the passion of the Kerry fans as one of the most appealing aspects of the job, he also freely admits that the pressure of managing the 2009 All-Ireland champions is unrelenting.
Having guided Kerry to three All-Irelands, two Munster Championships and two National League Division One titles, he would be undoubtedly be welcomed back with open arms. However, he appears to be settled in Kildare and is relishing the chance to improve a squad brimming with potential.
Having guided them to the promotion, the 60-year old was always likely to linked with a move away, and there does at least appear to be a contingency plan in place. U-20 coach Davy Burke is believed to be ready to step into O’Connor’s shoes should he decide to vacate his role, however, he appears to be committed to the cause for at least another season.
O’Connor is believed to have met with the Kildare board at the end of August to set out his plans for the 2022 season and he will be hoping to build on a hugely progressive twelve months at the helm.