independent

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Kingston: I'm still learning every day

All-Ireland SHC Semi-final

Cork manager Kieran Kingston. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Cork manager Kieran Kingston. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Denis Hurley

It's hardly a surprise that, when asked about how his golf game is at the moment, Cork hurling manager Kieran Kingston replies that it's "non-existent".

The Rebels' advancement to next Sunday's All-Ireland SHC semi-final against Waterford (4pm) means that Kingston doesn't necessarily have the optimum work-life balance right now, but he knows not to expect anything different either.

"The balance is very skewed!" he laughs.

"It's hectic, but, in saying that, when you sign up to these roles you know what to expect, having been involved before. You want to be here on these days, anybody managing an inter-county team wants to be involved at the business end.

"This is one of the biggest days, as was the Munster final, for Cork hurling and Cork supporters, with the minors involved in all of that. An All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park is another huge day, they're the ones you want to be involved in."

Three years ago, Kingston was also involved into August, as the coach of the Jimmy Barry-Murphy managed side which won Cork's first Munster championship in eight years. At the semi-final stage, though, the Rebels suffered a ten-point defeat against Tipperary as the five-week gap from the provincial final proved tough to bridge.

Kingston is hopeful that lessons have been learned from that campaign, but also is keen not to use the lay-off as an excuse.

"A lot is said about the five-week break and a lot is referred back to 2014 and that Cork mightn't have handled it as well, Tipperary handled it last year and so on," he says.

"If you look back at 2014, Cork trailed by two points at half-time having played poorly, with 11 wides, finished with 17 wides. That game was there to be won but, on the day, the performance wasn't at the level required. We won't be using the excuse of a five-week break if we don't perform on the day, we'll be honest.

"We've prepared as best we can. Players went back to their clubs for the first couple of weeks and played league games and championship games. A third of our panel went away playing with the Cork Under 21s, they've had two championship matches since, so there has been a good mix.

"We're back now since the Under 21 game, two and-a-half weeks with a full squad, and that's exactly the same period of time as we had before all of the other games."

It's certainly not a case that the team can be programmed simply to peak at a chosen time.

"It's impossible, where we're coming from at the start of the year, with the Munster league - most of our guys played in that - then you're into the national league," Kingston says.

"You're favourites for relegation going into that so you can't really go 'managing' your performance, 'We're going to peak in August or peak in July', because we hadn't that luxury.

"We just had to take every game as it came and put our best 20 on the field at any given day and that's the way we've approached it, in conjunction with the clubs."

In the closing stages of the Munster final win over Clare, Kingston and his selector Diarmuid O'Sullivan were pictured arm-in-arm, savouring the moment. Kingston says such unity is a consequence of familiarity.

"I suppose that comes with winning," he says.

"It's our second year working together, fellas get to know each other a bit better. In your first six or eight weeks in the job, you've 14 or 15 in the back-room team and then all of a sudden you're into the national league, you're only getting to know each other and that obviously brings its challenges.

"Knowing the strengths and weaknesses, the cohesiveness of the team develops the same as any other group, in business or in families, that develops over time. There's a great unity among the players and certainly among the management too, which is very important."

In that light, was it necessary to make mistakes in 2016 in order to learn from them?

"I'm still making them, I make them every day," Kingston says.

"That's part and parcel of it, every night you go to training or every day you go out with Cork hurling, you're learning. I would do things differently and so would everybody, that's part and parcel of it.

"It's an amateur sport, you're taking on a huge role, as are the management team, and you're doing it on a voluntary basis and in your spare time. There's obviously a learning curve but everybody's learning, I'd say if you spoke to Brian Cody he'd say that he's still learning!"

The education will continue next week, win, lose or draw. With silverware already won, there is a feeling that Cork are under less pressure than Waterford and Kingston certainly doesn't feel that his side are weighed down with expectation.

"If you asked me six months ago would I sign up for where we are now, winning the Munster championship with the draw we had, we'd have been thrilled with that," he says.

"In many people's eyes, we're probably in bonus territory now and from our own perspective we're probably slightly ahead of the curve in terms of where we thought we would be.

"Waterford are in a totally different space to us, we're going out the next day and there's no pressure on the players, they can go out and express themselves as best they can and try and give a performance to the best of their ability.

"Waterford are very different. They're in their third semi-final in a row, there's huge expectation in Waterford to try to get to the final and that brings its own pressure. They're probably glad they avoided Galway and got Cork, with Galway being the All-Ireland favourites. That probably brings more pressure than we would feel we're under."

Corkman

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