Newstalk.com speaks to Kildare legend Johnny Doyle about the recently promoted Lilywhites
When Cian O'Neill was appointed Kildare manager in October 2015, Kildare football was in a bad place.
They had been relegated from Division 2 after a dismal campaign which saw Jason Ryan's side lose five of their seven games. The Lilywhites conceded 100 points over the course of the league campaign. This was the second highest figure in the country after Louth, who leaked 104 points.
Entering the Championship on the back of relegation isn't the ideal preparation and after victory over Laois in the Leinster quarter-final, they drew Jim Gavin's Dublin.
The capital steamrolled Kildare and notched 5-18 to send them packing to the qualifiers.
Here, they found more joy. Victories over Offaly and Longford came about as a result of a favourable draw and was capped by perhaps their best result of the year when they sunk Munster kingpins, Cork.
There joy was to end their. A humiliating 27-point defeat to Kerry - in which they conceded seven goals - left them scarred and low on confidence.
The result forced Ryan to step down, leaving a legacy of back-to-back relegations, two Leinster semi-finals and an All-Ireland quarter-final.
"I would like to thank the players for their hard work and dedication to Kildare," he said in his resignation statement. "Keep the faith men!"
They placed that faith in Cian O'Neill. An accomplished coach and part of the Kerry backroom team, he had also worked with the Tipperary hurlers and Mayo footballers.
But this was inter-county management. He set about trying to restore confidence and rebuild a team from the bottom up.
"It was a tough to come into from Cian’s point of view," Kildare legend Johnny Doyle tells Newstalk.com. "His qualifications as a coach are probably up there with the best of them.
"But to come into a management situation can be very difficult.
"Every problem, every player’s problem and every player’s personal problem lands on his door. His time to actually coach can be cut down. Other issues he has to deal with overtakes them.
"It’s a tough introduction for him and especially in your own county, nobody is as hard on you as your own when it’s not going your way."
Cian O'Neill during the opening round of the O'Byrne Cup earlier this year as Kildare prepare to take on Longford. Image: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer
And so he set about his work. Immediate promotion was the objective and they achieved just that with six wins from seven games in Division 3. A 75th minute Eoin Cleary freekick consigned them defeat in the league final to Clare.
They exited in Round 3B of the All-Ireland series to Mayo, but signs of improvement were there.
This year, Kildare secured their second promotion in as many years and will take on Galway in the league final this weekend in Croke Park.
The feeling around this Kildare team is that the potential is there and that's down to the foundations laid by O'Neill almost 18 months ago.
Doyle says a lot of that comes down to the O'Neill's ability to instill a mental toughness in his side and to better prepare younger players for the challenges of inter-county football.
"The management would have met a lot with the players one-on-one and looked to build that character.
"He’s always talking about controlling what you can control and contribute what you can contribute.
"That’s a big thing. They’ve also put a big emphasis on belief in the game plan. You've seen with the top teams, regardless of what happens, they have the game plan. They stick with it. They know it. They know over the 70 minutes it’s going to be good enough.
"That’s the one thing I would have seen in Kildare and their style of play. They’ve adapted to rigidly stick to the game plan regardless of what else happens."
Kerry plundered Kildare's goal in the All-Ireland quarter-final in 2015. The reigning All-Ireland champions found the net seven times during a 27-point victory. Image: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Doyle pointed to leaders in the group like Fergal Conway, Eoin Doyle and Niall Kelly as players who have become an integral part of this current team.
"They’ve got leaders sprinkled throughout the team, dictating to some of the young lads. That’s a major positive sign in a team.
"The manager can bring you there, work with you and make a decision today that’s a brilliant move and tomorrow it doesn’t go well. People will call him a fool.
"But if you can get your players to take ownership on the field, buying into the game plan and not deviating too much from it, that ticks a lot of boxes.
"For me over the league, that’s what Kildare have done. They seem to have that belief that over the 70 minutes, if they can do what they’ve set out to do, it’ll be good enough to keep them competitive for long periods.
"That’s what hasn’t been there over the last three years."
Promotions from Division 3 and Division 2 might be snuffed at, but Doyle says the team can only beat what is put in front of them.
"There’s not much more he could do.
"He’s looking to put in a strong provincial campaign, so we’ll see where that takes him. Hopefully we’ll have a good summer ahead of us.
"It’s a young team with plenty of inexperience in it.There’s young lads learning and that’s going to take a bit of time
"There’ll be a few hard lessons along the way. I’m confident that they’re going in the right direction."