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Kilkenny: Dubs are like club

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From left, Kerry footballer Colm Cooper, Dublin footballer Ciaran Kilkenny, Cork footballer Eoin Cadogan, Kilkenny hurler Jackie Tyrrell and Galway hurler Joe Canning. Picture: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

From left, Kerry footballer Colm Cooper, Dublin footballer Ciaran Kilkenny, Cork footballer Eoin Cadogan, Kilkenny hurler Jackie Tyrrell and Galway hurler Joe Canning. Picture: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

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Castleknock star revelling in camaraderie of Dublin county set-upHERE was a clear juxtaposition of a young man's emotions if ever it existed.

On the evening of September 18, 2011 as Dublin erupted into celebration – Sam Maguire finally repatriated to the capital for one long and memorable winter – Ciarán Kilkenny sat disconsolate, the footnote of the day ruining what otherwise would have been a cause for raucous festivity.

"I was upset," he admits, recalling the day in conversation with The Herald. "I wasn't celebrating that Dublin had just won the All-Ireland. We had just lost an All-Ireland (minor) final against Tipperary and I would be competitive and I hate losing."

It won't be remembered with any great gusto by Dublin supporters because of what transpired later, but Dessie Farrell's minor team's capitulation from a six-point platform of superiority had soured utterly the day and the days after it for Kilkenny.

"It was a weird feeling. It was one that was hard on us. But I think it stood to us. You learn more from your losses than you would from beating a team by 20 points. You learn more and it stood to us. We won an under-21 All-Ireland.

"Even the game against Mayo (the All-Ireland SFC semi-final) last year, you take it on board and it sticks to you in the long run."

And it is those gut-churning lows, as well as the ecstatic highs, which contributed to his celebrated about-face back in January, when Kilkenny spurned a professional career in Australia with Aussie Rules team Hawthorn.

He doesn't say it out straight, but there is clearly no part of Ciarán Kilkenny that could devote itself so emotionally to the success and failure of an AFL club as it could to Castleknock or Dublin.

"Every time I was over there training away, I was always on Twitter or whatever looking and seeing how the club was doing. You miss that. The passion and the community aspect of it," he explains.

"Even with the Dublin team, the amount of talent we have got there. The energy and intensity that is there drives everyone on. All the lads are there, it's like a club in itself. We're all good friends."

When news broke that Kilkenny would not be returning to Oz after his winter break via an almost alarmingly earnest and heartfelt statement published on his Twitter account, he won the admiration of many who had only known him as a prodigious underage hurler and footballer.

Here, it seemed, was an ideal advert for the GAA, Ireland, Irish and Irishness.

"Probably because the way my Dad reared me," he says when asked the root of his national pride. "He is very passionate about our language and our history and even in school, I always had a keen interest in history and Irish. I just feel really passionate about our country and how unique we are and the banter we have and our sports ... they're so unique. It's an amateur organisation and we can still fill 80,000 people into a stadium.

"And how much it means to people in work places and in clubs and in counties when the team that represents them is successful. It's great to have. And the Irish language is very special to me as well."

It is those sentiments, articulated so maturely, which make it hard to imagine Kilkenny ever feeling overawed in anyone's company but that's exactly the sensation he admits to experiencing last summer when he, Jack McCaffrey, Emmet Ó Conghaile and Kevin O'Brien were fast-tracked into the Dublin senior squad after their All-Ireland U21 triumph.

As it happened – and somewhat unsurprisingly – he acclimatised best of all, securing a starting spot in the All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo and scoring three points on his first senior start. "It was intimidating coming into a team when you're 18 and coming into a team that just won an All-Ireland," Kilkenny admits. "Lads you looked up to and lads who you would have cheered on when you were younger.

 

CRAIC

"But this is my second year and I'm used to the lads. I can have the craic with them and we're all there for the one thing."

His first League campaign was going equally swimmingly until a knee injury suffered in the opening throes of Dublin's loss to Tyrone in Croke Park ended his spring involvement, an unfortunate blow but one which could easily have been much more cruel.

Kilkenny's sister (Aoife) has torn both cruciates in the past (having just been called into Dublin Ladies senior panel before she tore first cruciate) and he was beginning to wonder whether a Kilkenny family curse was in operation so when he says "I nearly hugged Ray Moran when I heard the news," that the damage was isolated to his medial, that's not difficult to picture.

"It was the best possible outcome because I couldn't get much sleep the night before. I thought the worst obviously because of my sister and the past she had and then looking at Colm O'Neill. But thankfully, I got the best possible outcome I could have gotten.

"Last year's experience stood to me," he adds of the familiarisation process with senior football. "I felt more accustomed this year. In my first few weeks, it took a while in training to get used to the pace because you don't have as much time on the ball.

"I'm used to the pace now at this stage, with all the training and all the backs and forwards that we play. The games we play with each other. I would be accustomed to it. You have to have that cuteness to it as well."

That Kilkenny describes himself as a GAA player rather than a footballer says plenty about his small ball-lust but suitably, he is coy about specific ambitions.

"I have a lot of things I would like to do over my career. And I'll tell you in 10 years!"

But quite clearly, all of those ambitions can only be realised on these shores and equally, there are no lingering regrets.

"Everyone has asked me that since I came back," Kilkenny shrugs. "I just went over to give it a go and I gave it a go and it made me appreciate what I had here. Even going back training here at the moment, it's sunny weather training down in St Clare's," he adds.

"The ground is hard, the ball is fast, we're wearing mouldies again ... where else would you want to be?"


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