JACK O’Connor’s shock decision to stand down as Kildare manager will intensify growing speculation linking him to the vacant Kerry job.
He has severed his ties with the Lilywhites after two seasons in charge – despite committing to another year a few short weeks ago.
The Dromid Pearses clubman pointed to the impact of the commute to and from South Kerry as the reason for his departure.
“After two challenging but very enjoyable years, I have decided to step away from managing the Kildare senior football team,” O’Connor (60) said in a statement.
Kildare County Board said Jack had previously indicated that the journey from and to his home in Kerry was taking its toll but his desire was to continue in the role and to build on the progress achieved.
“To this end, he and his management team were at an advanced stage of planning for 2022 but he has now decided not to stay on for a third year,” the board said in a statement.
Chairman Mick Gorman added: “We hold Jack in the highest esteem and the impact of his experience, influence and commitment as a manager will leave a lasting impression”.
O’Connor led the county to promotion to the top flight and to a Leinster final clash with Dublin.
During two terms in charge of his native county, from 2003 to 2006 and again from 2008 to 2012, O’Connor guided Kerry to three All-Ireland titles, in 2004, 2006 and 2009, and he was also at the helm for the first two of the five-in-a-row Kerry minor successes in 2014 and 2015. He later managed the Kerry Under 21 team, for a second time, before taking up the job in Kildare in 2019,
The latest development certainly puts O’Connor back in the frame for the coveted Kerry job although Peter Keane has not yet publicly indicated whether he wants another shot at winning an All-Ireland senior title.
Making no secret of his passion for the Kerry post, O’Connor remarked last week: “The Kerry gig is a fantastic job. Would you like to be anywhere else in many ways because the tradition is here and everything is built towards the Kerry senior football team”.
He added: “The players are coming through. If you want an easy life you go coach somewhere else. It is a very tough environment”.
Commenting on the lure of the Kerry job he remarked: “Who doesn’t want to coach Man United? It’s everything down here. You can’t escape from it down here. It’s all consuming”.