New Kerry boss Conor McCarthy: ‘We’ve been told to drive on, we have a plan and we’re just going to carry it out’

New Kerry boss Conor McCarthy

New Kerry boss Conor McCarthy Credit: Adam Kowalczyk

Conor McCarthy is set to become the youngest ever senior League of Ireland at the age of 25  and he is ready for the challenge.

The Uefa A License holder has taken over the reins of the Kingdom from previous boss Billy Dennehy, working alongside assistant James Sugrue.

That means he has eclipsed Stephen Kenny’s record as the youngest manager in League of Ireland history. The now-former Ireland boss was 26 when he became Longford Town manager.

But it has been a busy week at Mounthawk Park manager aside after CEO Brian Ainscough left the club.

“Obviously it was a surprise to everyone,” McCarthy said. “It’s not a matter that is something for me to be dealing with and worrying about. 

“For us, myself and James [Sugrue, assistant coach] and the rest of the staff and the players, it’s about the football side of things.

“I understand it is a big situation at the moment but it’s not something that I’m going to talk too much about because I don’t have as much knowledge as you’d think.

"It’s [for] somebody higher up in the club to be dealing with. We’ll just focus on football.”

And like their club statement said, it is business as usual for the new boss despite the curveball thrown his way.

“We’re told to drive on with the football side of things and everything stays the same,” McCarthy explained. “We just plan for 2024 as if nothing has changed. 

“I know we’re not giving you much of an answer but it’s not something that I’m concerned about. 

“We’ve been told to drive on. We have a plan and we’re just going to carry out that plan.”

With former boss Dennehy returning his full focus to Kerry as Sporting Director, McCarthy got the nod to manage the Kingdom for their second campaign as a senior League of Ireland club.

But it was only after the end of the season when he got asked if he would be willing to take the job.

“When the season finished, we all took our break,” McCarthy added. “Billy just asked myself and James to call up to his office like he does very regularly. We didn't take much notice. 

“Billy told us his decision and that was what he felt was in the best interest to step back from that role. We didn't question him too much on his decision. 

“I'm sure there's personal matters involved in that as well. And look, I'm not going to talk too much in terms of Billy's personal side of things. That's for him to speak about. 

“Whatever his decision was, he thought long and hard about it. 

“He explained that he was stepping back so myself and James were going to pop into that role and just continue on as normal. 

“There was no correlation between a couple of weeks ago and what happened in the last week.”

In their debut First Division campaign, Kerry were rooted to the foot of the table.

But they did impress at times and even claimed points against Longford Town, Waterford, Cobh Ramblers and Finn Harps.

Kerry also claimed a win away to Athlone Town - their first as a senior outfit.

“I feel like we're in a good place and on and off the pitch,” McCarthy added. 

“We're ahead of schedule, which is great. But, look, it's very easy to be ahead of schedule when things aren't moving. 

“When the ball starts rolling, that's the hard part. And we must be ahead of schedule then.”

As far as his recruitment strategy for 2024 goes, McCarthy admitted that he is keen to bring more physically imposing players to Mounthawk Park.

And his assistant Sugrue even suggested likewise when he raised the prospect of brining in players to the club on loan from other League of Ireland outfits.

But they will be keen to hold onto star man Leo Gaxha, with the former Sheffield United youth reportedly on the radar of a number of top-flight clubs.

Like a lot of other players, Leo is not tied down to contracts,” McCarthy added. “You're going to hear speculation at this time of the year. 

“Leo is a very good player and you're going to hear speculation over players like that, like you have with loads of other players around the country. But he's a free agent at the moment. 

“It's the 27th of November. We've got a lot of time left for whatnot to happen. Only time will tell about Leo.”

But as far as 2024 goes, McCarthy is hoping that he and his backroom team can learn from the lessons of 2023 - starting in the dugout. 

“You learn a lot and you pick up a few tricks of the trade from certain teams, especially experienced ones,” he explained. 

“I spent a lot of time watching the oppositions and I spent a lot of time watching how dugouts operate. I think it's probably something that people don't look at enough. 

“I watched some dugouts this season, how they work. We learned a lot from that side of it. 

“We've learned a lot in all departments. We had a free hit at it the first season so we just wanted to soak up as much as we could and make sure we can improve on all those departments.”