Saturday 23 September 2017

Late-comer Bergin still bursting with Premier ambitions

Kieran Bergin of DIT pictured at the draws for the Higher Education GAA Championships earlier this month
Kieran Bergin of DIT pictured at the draws for the Higher Education GAA Championships earlier this month
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

IT ought to have been too late. When Kieran Bergin "pulled the pin" on his round-the-world adventure, he had no business dreaming about hurling with Tipperary -- so he didn't.

After Tipp's Munster U-21 campaign in 2005 came to an end, Bergin opted to spend most of the next six years on the west and east coasts of the USA and a few places in between.

A shot with Tipp interested him -- his family are steeped in GAA tradition -- but life in the US was easy. Hurling for a few months a year in either New York or San Francisco opened doors and supplied jobs. It was all too good to walk away from.

"I wanted to travel and I went to gather a few pounds and one thing led to another and I travelled the States for about five or six months on my own.

"I liked the lifestyle and I was making more then than I would have when been fully qualified out of my job, so there was no reason to go back.

"And so one year turned into nearly seven years."

When he finally settled back home this year, his hurley selection betrayed the extent of his ambition. He went to plastic hurls, for no reason other than to keep costs down. In the States, they were the practical choice. A bad touch was more easily forgiven and, on his return, he saw no reason to change.

He toyed briefly with the Tipp footballers too, lining out in a McGrath Cup match last January.

"When I pulled the pin to come home, I honestly thought it was too late. I had a very bad first season with the club. I was playing corner-forward and we got knocked out of the south semi-final. Things weren't clicking.

"Thankfully, last year I made a couple of decisions. I dropped off the football team and went with the college hurling team in DIT. I think that's how I got spotted, I played a couple of good games. You'll probably laugh at this now, but I got rid of the plastic hurleys. "My game started improving so much in a couple of weeks, it wasn't even funny. My first touch had been off, but my confidence grew and one thing led to another.

"It's only a small thing, but I think it was probably the pivotal point when my career changed."

DIT provided the springboard. The first game he reverted to the ash was against UL in the Fitzgibbon Cup.

Hurling alongside Liam Rushe, his form had people talking and word got back to Bergin that Mike Ryan was watching him. But with one Mike Ryan over the Tipp Intermediates and another Mike Ryan involved with Eamon O'Shea, Bergin wasn't sure exactly which team had called him up.

"Someone told me Mike Ryan was watching me in a college game and I thought it was the senior Mike Ryan, which it was. But the intermediate Mike Ryan rang me the week after and I was like, 'ah, it must be the intermediates.'

"So, I took the foot off the pedal and probably went off on the beer for a few nights. On the following Tuesday or Wednesday, it was just after Paddy's Day -- I'll never forget it because I had a hard weekend done in Flannery's probably. But Mike rang me and there was a bit of confusion.

"I was like, 'Mike I was talking to you on the phone last week'. It took about five minutes to realise it wasn't him and he wondered was he confused himself -- had he actually called me?

"Eventually he said it was the seniors. I think I was lying on the couch at the time eating a bag of Maltesers and a bag of popcorn when I should have been in college. I said to myself: 'get up you fat pig, you better go for a run.'

Within a month, he was handed his debut in the league final clash with Kilkenny in Nowlan Park.

"That actually came out of nowhere. I thought I was getting dropped when Eamon called me.

"I was like, 'feck it anyway, I'm getting the curly finger here' when he called me after the Thursday training session before it (the league final). I genuinely thought I was getting dropped, but I was delighted to get the chance."

BUILDING

Tipp's season would end in Nowlan too, but they are building now. And the next few years might just bring something big for Tipp and Bergin who, after a delayed start to his senior career, wants to continue the family tradition of representing the Premier county for as long as possible.

His uncles Liam and Jack captained the Tipperary senior hurlers in 1983 and 1985, while Jack was a selector when Nicky English guided the Premier to an All-Ireland title in 2001.

"As a team we'd like to be getting to All-Irelands. With the team of players we have, we're good enough to be winning All-Irelands. I think last year was a missed opportunity. Small things in Limerick and Kilkenny could have changed those results.

"But I think the attitude is right and mentally we are going to be a lot stronger."

At 27, he's a late comer, but, perhaps, with time ticking, his urgency can help fire Tipp to bigger things.

That's how it has all worked out for Bergin -- leaving behind a dream to go chasing another dream.

Irish Independent

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