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the world at his feet

HE'S the Hero of the Future, destination unknown, but Ciarán Kilkenny is taking all the fuss in his stride as he gears up for the next few months -- a period that could shape his entire sporting career.

The most talked-about dual prodigy in Gaelic games was in Croke Park yesterday to receive his 2012 Cadbury Hero of the Future award -- recognition for his pivotal and prolific role in helping Dublin achieve All-Ireland U21 football glory this year.

In accepting the award, Kilkenny made clear his ambition to make it back into Croker with the Dublin senior footballers this summer. In an ideal world, he would love to play there with the Sky Blue hurlers too.

And beyond that? Well, maybe his long-touted switch to Aussie Rules will become a reality. Or maybe not. That decision can wait until he takes up an open invite from the Carlton Blues to spend two weeks in their company -- the Melbourne-based AFL outfit wanted him to jet out on June 25 but he's deferred that trip until after the senior footballers complete their All-Ireland title defence.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves: Kilkenny won't even train with Pat Gilroy's squad until after his Leaving Cert!

That starts on June 6 -- three days after Dublin open their Leinster campaign against Louth. He sits his last exam at Scoil Chaitríona on June 14. After that, he hopes, a long, giddy summer will stretch out before him.

"I'd love to play for the seniors in the summer, and a bit of hurling as well, but first of all I have to get the Leaving Cert done with," Kilkenny stressed.


Once the books are dispensed with, he will be catapulted straight into senior football training at Dublin's DCU HQ ... but the possibility that something similar could happen with Anthony Daly's hurlers offers an intriguing twist to the story.

Kilkenny starred for both the Dublin minor footballers and hurlers last summer, only to suffer a double whammy of September heartbreak. Revealing that his father John spoke to Daly at the start of the year, he added: "He would be interested to have me on his panel and I'd be interested to play on that team as well ... but that's all up to my Da. I'll have to get the Leaving Cert out of the way, but I'd love to play football and hurling for the county.

"As a child, it's everyone's dream to play with their senior team and to play in Croke Park. And, just looking out today, on how the sun's splitting the stones and how immaculate the pitch is looking, it's even more (of a dream) ... I can't wait to play with the senior county team."

So much so that he's put Carlton on the long finger until some time later this year.

"I was asked to go out for two weeks, from the 25th of June to the eighth or 10th of July, and they'd set up a timetable for me. But I gave my loyalties to the senior team this summer," he explained.

"I'd like to get a good few weeks in -- if they allow me -- to try and get a place on the team or the panel or the bench. I'd like to concentrate on that. Maybe, later on in the year, I'd like to go out to Australia for two weeks and get a taste of that as well."

Suffice to say, some career-defining decisions await this multi-talented teen, who turns 19 in July.


Sun-kissed southern hemisphere or northern exposure? Pro or amateur? Oval or round? "Some people say I'm lucky, but I'd like to think I'm unlucky myself!" he countered with a laugh.

The Castleknock clubman has already sounded out Westmeath midfielder John Heslin, who cut short his own fledgling Aussie Rules career earlier this year, largely through homesickness. "I played against him in the Leinster (U21) championship. I had a chat with him and he gave me good guidance," Kilkenny explained.

"He told me how hard the training is and how hard it is being away from your friends and stuff like that. It was good to see his point of view as well. He said at the start it was brilliant, but it's very hard to do -- to go over there, away from your family, your friends, everyone that's close to you. You are kind of isolated in a sense."

Only time will tell if Kilkenny takes flight or opts to be a home bird. Study, and then summer with the Dubs, come first.