Monday 24 October 2016

Hurling 'best game in the world' but this Kilkenny puts focus on football

Published 05/06/2015 | 02:30

Ciaran Kilkenny
Ciaran Kilkenny

It's pointed out to Ciaran Kilkenny that despite his young age, he has already made some big decisions in his life.

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The decision to go to Australia and try his hand at the AFL with Hawthorn was a huge call for anyone to make, let alone a fresh-faced teenager. To come back home when he felt things weren't working out was a crunch shout too.

Since then he has packed a lot in. He has won an All-Ireland and recovered from a cruciate knee ligament injury that ruled him out of last year's Championship. All of that water has passed under the bridge for Kilkenny and he's still just 21.

But perhaps the biggest call he has made is to pursue a career in football instead of hurling.

Kilkenny was a stand-out underage hurler, helping Dublin to an All-Ireland minor final. Many in the small-ball fraternity mourn his loss, along with Cormac Costello, as the missing piece in the jigsaw for the county's hurlers.

Anthony Daly seemed to have a similar train of thought. During his time as Dublin manager, he picked up the phone a couple of times but Kilkenny opted to stick with football.

"He rang me up at times," Kilkenny recalled. "And I was going to go out training a few times but in the end I just made the decision to stick with the football and concentrate on that."

Dublin football manager Jim Gavin has always made it clear he can't see anyone applying themselves sufficiently to both codes, but it's clear the decision wasn't an easy one for the Castleknock star.

"I've so much respect for the hurlers," he said at the announcement will team up with GAA Associations in America to help J1 students reclaim tax from the US.

"It's such a great game, the best game in the world. I just love watching it and I love when I do get the chance with the college or with the club because it's brilliant to play.

"There's nothing better than plucking a ball from the air or the clash of the ash. It's brilliant. But there's nothing better as well than playing football in Croke Park."

Even if his passion for hurling is obvious, he's sticking to football for the foreseeable.

And while last Sunday's romp past Longford seemed to be of little use to a Dublin side who are favourites to regain Sam Maguire later this summer, it was a personal victory for Kilkenny.

Last Sunday's outing was his first game in the Championship since the All-Ireland final of 2013, and his performance last weekend was good enough to win the official man of the match award.

Last year he could only look on as Dublin's apparently unstoppable juggernaut was derailed by Jim McGuinness' Donegal. It was something he stored in the memory bank.

"It was tough to watch on when you can't do anything about it. It's fair enough if you're available for selection," he said.

"But if you're not even able to do anything or push lads on or anything it's a hard situation to be in.

"It's just great to be back now. I'm happy out to be back."

The almost year-long absence gave him a renewed appreciation for the game and he believes he has improved in certain areas.

"When we did tests and stuff like that to see if you're on the same kind of levels, some of the scores I had improved on," he revealed.

"It lets you focus in on some aspects of your body. You're in the gym so much and mentally, you improve much more because you're after getting over it.

"It makes you appreciate it a lot more and makes you hungrier as well. It was a tough year. But you just have to get through it and put in a lot of hard work in the gym. It was just good to be out on the pitch on Championship day."

He has already accomplished a lot. Whether hurling will be part of his future remains to be seen but it's football only "for the moment anyway."

After sitting out last year, he can't wait for more. A lot done, more to do.

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