Kilkenny Homing in on HQ return
JUST in case you were in any doubt why Ciarán Kilkenny turned his back on a potentially lucrative Aussie Rules career . . .
. . . for the hard-pressed life of a 21st century 'corinthian', let us make this abundantly clear ...
Dublin's most prolific young sporting talent loves the GAA with a passion that knows no bounds.
Melbourne was grand but it isn't where he wants to be. Planet GAA is home. Croke Park, not the MCG, is his theatre of dreams. He literally can't get enough of football; he loves hurling too (albeit Anthony Daly won't get the pleasure of his company this season).
This is the first abiding message you take away from spending barely quarter-of-an-hour in the company of Ciarán Kilkenny. The second is that he's not just a godsend to Dublin GAA but a poster boy for the association at large: a PR man's dream ticket. That word-perfect January statement, announcing his unexpected return to the Gaelic fold and crafted with the help of his former primary teacher/hurling mentor, was the subject of widespread praise reaching all the way to the president, Liam O'Neill.
When it comes to turning his back on an international rookie contract with AFL side Hawthorn, Kilkenny is happy to have sated his curiosity by going out in the first place ... but far happier to have returned home just six weeks later.
Australia's loss is emphatically Dublin's gain. Dessie Farrell has already benefitted to the tune of 2-10, the outrageous tally (all bar two points from play) registered by Kilkenny on his return to the Dublin U21 fold against an admittedly hapless Carlow. Very soon, it will be the turn of Jim Gavin to reap the rewards of Kilkenny's decision to give his full senior commitment to the Dublin footballers.
Just how soon is the question. With a Leinster quarter-final looming against Longford next Wednesday, there is the possibility that Kilkenny and his fellow U21s won't be involved when the Sky Blue seniors host Mayo in Croke Park this Saturday night.
The man himself isn't so sure: "I think I could be available for selection, yeah," he revealed, speaking ahead of his first pitch session with the seniors last night. Dublin's gain, Mayo's loss?
Still, before looking forward in anticipation, one final look-back on his shortlived Oz adventure.
His real 'problem' with Aussie Rules is that it wasn't football, or hurling for that matter. The game itself lacked the "free-flowing flair" and "end-to-end" nature of Gaelic games.
But it went beyond sporting aesthetics. "It actually wasn't homesickness," he says of his January volte face, adding with a laugh: "I didn't really miss my parents at all when I was out there! But it was just the whole ... the connections and interactions you'd make playing for five or six teams: your club, your county. It's just brilliant.
"You can go to the other side of the country and talk to a random person about the GAA, and you can be there for two or three hours. I can never hide the love or passion I have for the games. As I said in my statement, that was one of the main things that influenced my decision."
The Castleknock prodigy nearly didn't go in the first place.
"A week before I was about to go, I said to my parents 'Look, I think I'm going to stay' ... but they said you might as well give it a go and have no regrets. I'm just glad that I went out and it made me appreciate what I have here."
Looking back, he reckons the "whole professional lifestyle" wasn't for him. And yet herein lies a contradiction: he recalls a time from his brief sojourn Down Under when he wanted to go for extra kicking practice and was advised against doing so.
"I was kind of like, the only way I feel I can get better is go out and kick a thousand balls and perfect my game. So, I'd rather play the game I love out of pure enjoyment rather than it being my job." He adds: "I thought I would have had a good chance of making it, because I was doing pretty well on all the endurance aspects. I'd be in the top two, fitness-wise, over there.
"But at the end of the day, I weighed up would I rather win All-Irelands in football and hurling, and titles with my club, and college and all these other aspects – or win a Grand Final. I was raised to win All-Irelands: that was embedded in me."
He says Hawthorn were "disappointed" with his decision but understanding about where his true passion lay.
Coming off the plane, Kilkenny was more convinced than ever that he had made the right call. His thoughts were already focussed on Castleknock's then-looming All-Ireland junior club semi-final against Kenmare – a three-game epic that ended with a HQ appearance but eventual defeat. The U21 championship was just around the corner. There were, in short, "so many titles there to be won."
He plans on heading back to college next autumn, to an arts degree in either UCD, Maynooth or St Pat's. Before then, hopefully, Croker beckons.
As he says himself: "Tá mé abhaile!"