Sunday 22 April 2018

Being 'in thick of action' still Kilkenny's preferred role in Dubs' set-up

Ciarán Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Ciarán Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

As a burgeoning underage star with Dublin, Ciarán Kilkenny was regularly planted in full-forward lines by respective managers Dessie Farrell and Jim Gavin when his brand of power and dynamism were put to good effect.

At senior level, he's operated much differently, more often than not in that playmaking role he has cultivated, complete with his unique brand of hand signals, reverse gears and brilliant reading of the game to instinctively understand where he needs to be.

That target role he prospered in as an 18- and 19-year-old has receded but for this year's league it was very much back in vogue, so much so that he trebled his number of career goals from one to three in just one seven-match campaign.

His 2-18 return represents arguably his best run of form since his debut in 2012.

"I was getting into more offensive positions. I suppose it's just adding another layer to my game in the sense that I played half-back one year, half-forward and now I'm playing closer to goal as well," he said.

"You do need that kind of strength and power that you are able to provide an option inside for a pass, or hold off your man. It's just about getting that balance that you are not too powerful but you are balancing it with athleticism."

Kilkenny still retained that licence to instinctively immerse himself in the busiest stretches of the field.

"It's a bit of both, instinctive and the coaching staff giving you a bit of guidance on that as well.

"I really just enjoy the heat of the battle in a game and whatever position I'd need to play I love to play there because that means I will be in the thick of the things."

Dublin's recent league success was a fifth in six years for Kilkenny though he didn't finish the campaign in 2014 because of a cruciate ligament tear sustained against Kildare.

With four All-Ireland senior medals so far his 2013 conviction that he was raison d'etre has certainly stood up.

Kilkenny's U-turn on an AFL career with Hawthorn, after just six weeks, is very much in the rear-view mirror now and his justification for returning then is still as strong now.

"I suppose I came back because the bond that myself and a lot of the players would have had, and especially the guys at underage level. A good chunk of the guys there now would have been 1993 and 1994, who I would have played at minor level with and would have played against them all the way up, U-8, U-9, U-10.

"It's that special bond that you create with lads that you play against at that age group. You're playing against your opponents but the bond you make having marked them - I would have marked Jack McCaffrey, John Small, Brian Fenton.

"Before I was going off to Australia (in 2012), I was at the All-Ireland final between Donegal and Mayo - a serious atmosphere, two serious teams. After that, I was hoping for the opportunity to, please God, represent Dublin there one day.

"The bond that I had with the players was the main reason, and the pride I have for the culture that we have and the grá I have for my local community."

Their league final victory over Galway came at a time when he was based in the Connemara gaeltacht as part of his Master's in primary teaching.

With his love of Irish culture and language and his connection with Galway - his father is a cousin of legendary Galway All-Ireland winner Seán Purcell - it was a perfect storm for the Castleknock man to face Galway for the first time in his career and then to do it all again in Croke Park two weeks later.

"I would have looked a lot at the 1998 and 2001 Galway teams when I was younger. I would have watched Pat Comer's video 'A year til Sunday' and really idolised a lot of the players on that team, so it was a great opportunity for me to go and play against Galway," added Kilkenny, who has effectively closed the door on any prospect of pitching in with Dublin's hurlers in the future.

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Irish Independent

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