Trio opt out as O'Neill begins rebuild
Dublin's presence in Leinster makes Kildare's reconstruction job much harder but new boss says Lilies can't look that far ahead
A trio of Kildare's most experienced players will not return to the Lilywhites' squad next year.
Hugh Lynch has decided to retire while Tomás O'Connor, who quit the panel mid-season after falling out of favour with Jason Ryan, has declined an invitation to rejoin for 2016.
Gary White, meanwhile, has embarked on another tour of duty with the defence forces and wont be available to new manager Cian O'Neill in his first season in charge of his home county.
"An invitation was sent out to everyone who was on last year's championship panel and anyone who had left in the year/year and a half before that," O'Neill explained.
"Ninety-five per cent of players accepted the invitation and came in, there was a couple for different reasons, personal, study, etc. who couldn't commit but it's not for me to go into personal cases but suffice to say 95% of guys who were given an invitation came in."
David Hyland, Daniel Flynn and Neil Flynn, who all opted out last year at various stages, are expected to return, however.
Éanna O'Connor, son of former Kerry manager Jack, has trained with an extended panel and O'Neill admitted: "He's going well.
"Éanna has a couple of injuries and there a few players who have what I call legacy injuries, injuries they brought in from this season or from the club scene, so he's working hard, but he's being held back a little bit by injuries.
"He's in training with us, yeah."
At present, Kildare are working off "a big panel that we need to refine," but O'Neill gave no indication as to how he will approach the task of rebuilding a team who suffered the triple humiliation of relegation to Division 3 of the Allianz League and chastening Championship losses to both Dublin and Kerry this year.
"We'll only decide on that once we have the squad picked," O'Neill outlined, "because I'm not a fan of trying to implement your tactics independent of the group of players.
"I think it needs to be based on their skills sets, their attributes, the type of group you have so we won't decide on that till mid January when we make that post pre-season cut."
"It's been very busy," the new man explained of his initial contact with the squad.
"We're together six weeks at this stage now.
"The first thing was to get the management team together, which was the most important thing in terms of setting out our stall.
"I'm very fortunate to have Pádraig Brennan, Bryan Murphy and Brian Flanagan working with me. Three great men, three great Kildaremen.
"All served their time with distinction on the field. Not only that, they bring different things.
"Bryan (Murphy) is the current Under-21 manager. We have quite a young team there so he's the perfect link, that transition between the squads.
"Pádraig has been hugely involved, particularly with Sarsfields, his own club for the last number of years. He's seen a lot of the underage guys coming through.
"And then Brian Flanagan is just recently retired so he'd still have a strong knowledge of what worked, what didn't and what makes certain players tick.
"I think the balance has been good. Our first step then was to get the squad together.
"Between the four of us, we had a fair idea of who we wanted to bring in, in addition to what I thought was only fair...keeping last year's squad together.
"I thought it would have been unfair of me to make decision when I hadn't seen them play under what I regard as my style, my philosophy of football.
"So it's been a large, high volume panel which has its own challenges."
Promotion would seem like an obvious initial target for Kildare but O'Neill acknowledged that his work would be judged on summertime results.
With Dublin looming ever larger on the Leinster and national landscape the avoidance of the sort of season-wrecking hidings Kildare have suffered at their hands in recent seasons would help too.
As it happens, the counties have been drawn on opposing sides of the provincial draw but O'Neill isn't inclined to look that far.
"Dublin are the standard bearers in the country at All-Ireland level, at Leinster level, at League level and even at O'Byrne Cup level," he admitted.
"There's no doubt that they've set the standard for everyone.
"You're going to have to face them at some time, but all we can focus on is who we have to play to get to a Leinster final and ultimately play them.
"Will they be more difficult to play in a Leinster final than a quarter-final? I don't think that's relevant.
"Have you a greater chance of getting further if you play Dublin later? I think it's fair to say 'yes'.
"But once again, we'll focus on every single match to get step-by-step to get there.
"Dublin have to get there too - they aren't in a Leinster final yet."
"We'll focus on our path," O'Neill concluded, "and I'm sure they'll focus on theirs."