Wednesday 29 March 2017

Cillian Buckley still driven by 'day the world ended' moment

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Cillian Buckley is fast developing into a key player in Kilkenny's bid to lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup once again
Cillian Buckley is fast developing into a key player in Kilkenny's bid to lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup once again

Late on in the 2012 Leinster hurling final, Joe Canning glided in between Paul Murphy and Cillian Buckley to take a ball and squeeze over a point from the tightest of angles at the Hill 16 End in Croke Park.

Buckley's head was turned. Just a few months into a fledgling Kilkenny career, he had never seen anything like it from an opponent.

For the young Dicksboro man, it compounded an already miserable day, leaving the reigning champions trailing by 2-16 to 1-6.

"Things opened up that day. It was as if the world had ended," he reflected.

Such a turn of phrase to describe that defeat underlines the landmark day it was in his career.

Kilkenny turned it around of course and within three months were All-Ireland champions, courtesy of a replay win over the same Galway team.

But to this day Buckley can't get away from that defeat and the valuable lesson it provided him with.

In his 17 seasons in charge Brian Cody has very rarely started 19-year-olds in a Championship match. It has been the preserve of an elite group.

Buckley was still a few days short of his 20th birthday when Canning and Co came raining down on top of him.

Injuries to Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice, the foremost midfield partnership in the game, gave him his opportunity and he was an influential figure as Kilkenny swept to a League title win over Cork two months earlier.

But for the All-Ireland quarter-final against Limerick three weeks after the defeat to Galway, he was one of four players to lose his place.

"You use the days when things haven't gone so well in the past to improve. You have to start somewhere," he said.

"I look back on that 2012 Leinster final, that was one of my first Championship games. You learn that's what sets up future success. You have to take a step back to go forward."

That forward step didn't take long. He was used as a substitute in the Limerick and Tipperary games that summer but sat out the drawn All-Ireland final.

Kilkenny only used one substitute that day but for the replay Buckley and Walter Walsh were parachuted in from left field, Buckley to midfield as Richie Hogan was posted to full-forward.

The capacity of the manager to get things right manifested itself once more in the contribution of Buckley that day, as it did two years later in the same situation. Had Buckley sensed he was that close despite being overlooked for the initial final?

"You never feel you are far away but there is a fierce sense of disappointment when you are not picked the first day.

"Once you are back in on the Monday night after a drawn All-Ireland or any Championship draw it's competition more so than ever, because the team hasn't done well enough to win the previous day. You definitely pick up on the sense that there are places there to be won."

Buckley has since developed into an athletic and powerful presence on a half-back line that was once the preserve of three iconic Kilkenny figures, but he sees little difference in the roles.

"The way things are gone, half-back/midfield/half-forward is a real battle zone. You're wearing the number on the back but there is not much difference between the three lines," he said.

"It's turning into a fierce of game of athleticism and fitness. It's probably suiting me and is a position I enjoy playing."

The Walsh-Hogan-Delaney dynasty that went before them left standards for the rest to follow.

Knocking

"It wasn't easy knocking the last half-back line that was there - Tommy, Brian Hogan and JJ made up that line and I don't think there was anyone else needed.

"The last few years, Kieran Joyce was knocking on the door for a long time. With Padraig Walsh, you're not getting anything too unlike Tommy, it's nearly a replica in a way. Things have fitted in there nicely.

"You get a chance to learn from the likes of Tommy and JJ and you try and reproduce a bit of it if you're playing half-back."

Buckley's club Dicksboro haven't produced many Kilkenny hurlers in recent times - double All-Ireland winning goalkeeper Michael Walsh is their best known player, while Brian Barry had a spell between 2005-06 - but Buckley has put down firm roots.

In Kilkenny you must serve your apprenticeship, he says, though his was relatively short. He cites the example of Richie Hogan and TJ Reid, who found themselves looking in more often than out in the early part of their career but have now developed into the team's undisputed leaders.

"There is a huge change between my first year on the panel and now," said Buckley. "You are definitely more comfortable. With making mistakes comes experience.

"No doubt TJ and Richie are the leaders, they are absolutely vital in our set up. They took on the challenge of being out in front and taking up the gauntlet."

Irish Independent

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