Sunday 22 July 2018

O'Connor eager for Down nod

THERE were just three minutes left in the Leinster SFC semi-final when Tomás O'Connor came on for Podge Fogarty.

And at that point, two things were pristinely clear.

Firstly, that were the match allowed run a further 10 minutes, Kildare would catch Meath.

Secondly, under current time-keeping arrangements, Kildare were goosed.

Frustration is probably the emotion, if not quite the word.

"It was an extremely disappointing loss," says O'Connor now. "Going into that game we would have been very confident and feeling very good. The bodies would have been in great shape so when you come out of a loss like that it can really push you back a bit."

"The game was probably a little bit over then but we didn't give up."


For O'Connor, the Championship has been something of non-starter. Or more to the point, the burly full-forward from the Clane club has been outside Jason Ryan's team sheet for both of Kildare's summer matches thus far.

He was named to start against Louth.

But when Paddy Brophy, Niall Kelly and Podge Fogarty scored a collective tally of eight points and won all the ball they needed, Ryan was unlikely to change much for Meath.

That, O'Connor can understand. And when he says he hopes for a more inclusive role in Newry on Sunday, no hint of disillusionment seeps out.

Yet when Brophy was taken off after a heavy challenge from Kevin Reilly, Ryan went for Alan Smith.

Who, to be fair, kicked two points and hit the upright as Kildare chased something more substantial than chasm-filling points.

On the Tuesday afterwards, training was flat and listless.

"Lads were still on a bit of a downer," O'Connor explains now. "Once that training was over and done with that was that done and dusted. We trained Thursday and that was excellent so it was really the one session got it done with."

Sunday in Newry is either the end of the world or the discovery of a whole new one for Kildare and it's hard to imagine Ryan facing down the faithful having gone out without using O'Connor in a direct ball-winning capacity.

He's just one of those players with a particularly unique talent.

For every Kildare person who feels he is not prolific enough and suffers because of his size when it comes to winning frees off referees, there's three who'll say Kieran McGeeney never used him properly, that Kildare fail to get outriders high up and quickly when he inevitably wins ball.

"From my experience with Kildare, the fans and people here have huge expectations of Kildare," O'Connor notes.

"When a manager is in his first proper year with a team and he brings in young lads, maybe there is too much expectation on us.


"We've lost big games and games we should have won moreso under Kieran so it's hard to know. People will be negative and disappointed when the team they've supported all year loses a big game like that. Of course it'll be

negative but they'll follow us to Newry again.

"We set very high standards for ourselves and it's very disappointing when you don't meet them. Every year you go out, you try something different or try to improve somehow so there is that extra inch we are not getting. It can be extremely disappointing but I think we're starting fresh again."

"We really wanted to get to a Leinster final this year and, after that, we would have taken it from there. If we can get that breakthrough and win silverware as a team, that will bond us even more. That's what we're looking for."

Still, it's not that long since Kildare and Down met in an All-Ireland semi-final in their one and only Championship clash to date.

A day when, literally, the width of the Canal End crossbar from which Rob Kelly's late free cannoned, prevent McGeeney's team from going all the way to September.

"It only feels like yesterday that we played that game and we could have won and been in an All-Ireland final if we had won. It's mad," O'Connor admits.

"We've only played them last year since 2010 and maybe we played them in the league before. I don't know how good or bad they've gone back but obviously they haven't reached an All-Ireland final so it's hard to know.

"They've lost some crucial players but it doesn't matter," O'Connor concludes. "It's a championship game so it's going to be tough."

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