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Ciarán can crack code

ONE gets the sense when talking to Ciarán Kilkenny that this is a young man whose unbreakable focus has contributed as much to his rise as his precocious talent.

His Castleknock side had just ensured their AFL 3 status for 2013 -- the highest standing so far in the Dublin 15 club's short history -- but Kilkenny's attention immediately turned to the new journey and challenge he is about to embark on next week.

Then again, he has more to look forward to than most as he prepares himself for a life in professional sport with Australian Rules outfit Hawthorn. Surely, though, fears of the unknown must be creeping in? No chance.

"I'm grand," he says casually. "I've done all my research. Look, I'm obviously going to be sad leaving all my family and friends.

"I'll be spending time visiting them and having the craic with them before I go. And the club is something that is very important to me. It's where you start playing as a toddler and it's where you finish off.

"But I'm just looking forward to getting to Australia. It's going to be a mental and physical challenge and I'm going to give it my best. It's going to be a good experience."

Inevitably, the comparisons with the late, great Jim Stynes will be made given that the Ballyboden St Enda's man is the only Dub to have really made a success of the code Down Under. His sad passing in March was greeted with an outpouring of emotion both in Australia and Ireland in what was a testament to both what he achieved on the playing fields but also his courageous battle with cancer.

Kilkenny is very aware of the high esteem in which Stynes is held.

"Look at him and what he achieved," he gushes. "He is an absolute legend. He won the best player award with Melbourne Football Club -- the Brownlow Medal -- and that is just phenomenal. For an Irish player to win the Player of the Year award in Australia is just incredible.

"I read his book and saw his documentary (Every Heart Beats True) and he is a hero. The stuff he did with the Reach Foundation (Established by Stynes in 1994 to inspire young people) was brilliant too."

Indeed, Melbourne were believed to be among the Aussie clubs bidding for Kilkenny's signature during the summer -- with Carlton and Hawthorn the front-runners.

"Look, Hawthorn are the club I am going to. They are a very good, ambitious club with aspirations of winning Grand Finals and that's one of the things I looked at. Hopefully I can win a Grand Final as well."

Next season will mark the dawn of a new era in Dublin football. All-Ireland winning manager Pat Gilroy -- who gave Kilkenny his senior debut in the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Mayo in the summer (scoring three points from play) -- has stepped aside.

His replacement, Jim Gavin, is someone who Kilkenny worked under during last spring's All-Ireland under-21 success, and the talented forward believes that the right man is in place to regain the Sam Maguire.

"Jim is a great manager and a great lad," he says. "He was very understanding with me when I was doing my Leaving Cert (during the U21 campaign). Obviously he has the experience of winning two All-Irelands at under-21 level under his belt, so hopefully he can push on and win some senior ones as well."


There has been movement further down the grades too, as Dessie Farrell, who enjoyed a very successful term as minor boss culminating in Dublin's first All-Ireland title since 1984 back in September, has filled the breach left by Gavin.

The legendary attacker is someone who has had a profound influence on Kilkenny's career: "The work Dessie puts in is incredible. I have had him (as manager) all the way up since under-13 so I know him very well. The commitment he shows is incredible, inspiring.

"He has that crop of under-21 players and the minors coming through and there is such a wide range of talent there. Hopefully the lads can get their hands on another under-21 (All-Ireland) next year."

He may have a higher profile as a footballer, for obvious reasons, and it is sometimes easy to forget that Kilkenny is a supremely gifted hurler too. It is interesting to note, though, that when pressed on a possible return to the Dublin colours at some point in the future -- similar to what Sydney Swans star Tadhg Kennelly did with Kerry in 2009 -- he talks of both codes.

"For the last few years minor hurling teams from Dublin have been competing very strongly," he says. "They have been in a couple of All-Ireland finals and won a couple of Leinsters so Dublin hurling is on the up. It's a great time for Dublin GAA.

"You have to put it (a return) to the back of your mind in one sense because you are going over to try and make it as a professional in Australia. But that little child in you ... everyone dreams when they're younger of winning All-Irelands, so hopefully in the future I can come back and get Sam or Liam and a Celtic Cross in my back pocket."

The evidence so far suggests it would take a foolish person to bet against it.