Kenny urges Rebel young guns to savour taste of the big time
TOM Kenny will have one message for his young team-mates as they step into the white-hot heat of a Munster final against Limerick tomorrow – go and enjoy it.
In the midst of a Cork squad that includes eight U-21s and many more not long off hurling's training wheels, the Grenagh accountant must sometimes feel like the father figure in an unfeasibly large boyband.
Donal Og, Sean Og, Diramuid O'Sullivan, Ronan Curran, John Gardiner, Joe Deane – they've all gone now.
Brian Murphy is still around but is out injured so Kenny (who turns 32 next Tuesday) and Anthony Nash are the last vestiges of the Rebels' old guard.
"I'm actually younger than Donal Og and Sean Og but older than John," he points out. "I'd love to say that it would have been great to have them around but that's the management's decision. That's what they're there for, they select the players.
"I thought that last year might have been my last, but it went well for me and management asked me back. Once I can play as long as I can, I'll definitely keep going."
He didn't see much time during the NHL but come championship he got the call and wears the No 5 shirt against Limerick. His cheeky young team-mates slag him, of course, asking can he actually remember playing U-21?
But Kenny is up for the craic and sees advantages to his veteran status – and not just that he has already won two All-Ireland and three Munster crowns.
"I won't say the fun has gone out of it, but in a way it might be seen to be lost," he muses. "Nowadays you've hurling training twice a week, you're in the gym twice a week, you've recovery and diaries, you're rehabbing and so on.
"When I was 20 or 21, I don't think I had too much gym experience or even for a couple of years afterwards.
"I still love playing hurling, but some of the fun might be gone out of playing inter-county because there's so much expected of players now. It'd be good if some coaches just said, 'let's go out and enjoy the game'."
That's what he'll be telling his team-mates tomorrow when, 10 years after his first, he knows he may be even more nervous than them in his sixth Munster final.
"In your first you're thinking, 'this is great, let's get out and play'. It's kind of ironic that as you get older you get more nervous, because you're thinking about it more," he says.
"Your stomach would be churning, but that's a good sign too.
"I'd be positive by nature and while we might have been relegated, the only performance I'd have been worried about in the league was against Clare.
"We've worked very hard on our fitness for five or six weeks and when Clare were playing Waterford I was hoping they'd win because, as we had lost three times to them, that was going to focus our minds."
Kenny was impressed with his inexperienced team-mates' progress last summer, when they were only pipped by Tipperary in Munster.
"Maybe at the end of the day it was probably a bit too soon for some of our younger players," he says. "But that'll stand to them, as will the performance against Clare and being in a Munster final now and, hopefully, winning it."