Sunday 11 December 2016

Ageless Comerford still defying the odds to drive Gaels forward

Michael Verney

Published 29/11/2016 | 02:30

O’Loughlin Gaels veteran Martin Comerford in Dublin yesterday ahead of Sunday’s AIB Leinster Club SHC final. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
O’Loughlin Gaels veteran Martin Comerford in Dublin yesterday ahead of Sunday’s AIB Leinster Club SHC final. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell tells a great story about Galway's Mark Kerins' stunned reaction when meeting Martin Comerford walking towards the Kilkenny dressing-rooms in Ballinasloe with hurls and a gear bag draped over his shoulder before a 2002 League game.

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Having become acquainted during their college years in UL, Kerins had to ask 'Gorta' where he was going. Known more for his poker prowess around Castletroy than his hurling talent, there was no evidence that he'd ever don the black and amber.

But despite never representing the Cats at minor or U-21 level, Brian Cody took a chance on 'Andy's younger brother' with fresh faces needed after their Championship semi-final defeat to Galway the previous August. And he wouldn't regret the decision.

Hardened

That spring Sunday in Duggan Park was viewed as 'Kilkenny's League team' with most of the 'rookies' on show, including Comerford, not expected to pass the test of time and make any significant impact when the ground hardened that summer.

But lo and behold, Comerford would become one of Kilkenny's most crucial players over the next decade despite admitting he was never "earmarked" for success growing up. With six All-Irelands and three All-Stars in his trophy cabinet, he's certainly had the last laugh but his staggering success even surprised him.

"I wouldn't have been earmarked to play for Kilkenny at underage by any stretch of the imagination. But I'm ultra-satisfied with what I got out of playing with Kilkenny. To win as much as we won is very satisfying," he says.

When he did walk away from the county scene, after falling to Clarinbridge in the 2011 All-Ireland club final, which still gives him "sleepless nights", it was a difficult decision.

"One you'd have to think long and hard about," Comerford says.

"I met Brian Cody a few weeks after it and spoke to him about the way I was feeling. I just couldn't face hurling for a while and I just didn't have the enthusiasm for it. He told me to think about it and I did for a couple of weeks and that was the decision I made.

"Maybe it was the wrong decision, maybe I could have been on the panel for another few years. I was in relatively good shape but it was just a decision I made. That's it, we all make decisions in life you just have to live with them."

He believes it has stood to him in the long run and allowed him to spearhead O'Loughlin Gaels' run to Sunday's Leinster decider against Cuala, along with fellow veterans Brian Hogan and Alan Geoghegan, at the ripe age of 38.

His four semi-final points as they dethroned Oulart showed no signs of slowing down.

"I'll keep playing as long as I can because you'll be retired long enough. 'Fan' Larkin always says to me, 'Keep going for as long as you can and enjoy it, because when you're gone, that's it'," he says.

As far as Cody is concerned, Comerford "couldn't see him retiring anytime soon" but he admits challenging times may be ahead on Noreside as the Cats look to unearth new talent and prevent a potential takeover from Tipperary and Waterford.

"Tipperary are the team to beat next year," he says. "It's back to the drawing board really for Kilkenny; it's going to be a difficult year trying to blood new players. He needs to blood new players and get maybe some influence from youth into the team," he says.

"Listen, there's always good hurlers in Kilkenny. There'll be players found, there'll be players who will get their chance in the league and it will be up to them to sink or swim."

Kilkenny will still be "thereabouts" in 2017 but for now, all attention is on O'Loughlin Gaels as the rejuvenated attacker bids for a shot at redemption on St Patrick's Day.

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