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Monday 25 September 2017

Ciarán still 'desperate' for success

Castleknock star has sights only on future

Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny in action against Westmeath during their Leinster SFC semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny in action against Westmeath during their Leinster SFC semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile

They are the moments Ciarán Kilkenny lives for. The moments you would almost die for.

The last five minutes of a fraught championship game where everything is on the line.

"Ah, stop. They're incredible," he tells The Herald. "You're just looking to do whatever it takes to win the game.

"You're just like a hungry, desperate animal trying to do anything you can. Whether it's winning a kickout or getting a block or whatever."

For all their silken skills and athletic prowess and tactical acumen, this hunger - call it desperation - is a key factor in Dublin's sheer longevity of success under Jim Gavin.

Ciarán Kilkenny in Croke Park at the recent launch of Sure deodorant as official statistics partners of the GAA. Photo: Sportsfile
Ciarán Kilkenny in Croke Park at the recent launch of Sure deodorant as official statistics partners of the GAA. Photo: Sportsfile

And when it comes to that winning mindset, Kilkenny is front and centre. Just 24, and already a natural born leader.

Hungry as hell

The cynical counterpoint is that Dublin don't do 'fraught' championship games in Leinster; you don't need to be hungry as hell in the home straight when you're already ten or 15 or 20 or even more points ahead, your opposition long since broken.

Maybe Kildare - given all their promising signals of late - will buck that lopsided trend in Sunday's provincial showpiece. Or maybe not.

But the All-Ireland series has been a very different story for this Dublin team. Time and again (versus Kerry and Mayo in 2013; Mayo twice in 2015; Kerry and Mayo twice again in 2016) they have been pushed to the pin of their navy blue and latterly pristine white collars. And they've survived. And thrived.

The 2014 All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal was the only championship implosion on Gavin's watch. Coincidence or not, Kilkenny was a cruciate injury bystander that summer.

And to think none of this might have happened ...

Kilkenny was an underage graduate of much renown when he made his SFC debut in 2012. A couple of cameos off the bench were followed by a first start, in the All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo: his big summer baptism would also prove to be Pat Gilroy's managerial swansong.

And then he hopped aboard a plane for Australia. When the 19-year-old Kilkenny signed an international rookie contract with Hawthorn in late September, 2012, the obvious fear in the capital was that one of its great white hopes (football or hurling for that matter) would be lost forever.

Instead, he was back home in a matter of months.

"I was going well, I was generally going grand. And then I came home at Christmas and it kind of hit me," the Castleknock man recalls. "I saw the club lads, I was chatting to a few of the Dublin lads … and you just see, I had great opportunities in Ireland.

"I love my country, love our culture, our traditions, our sports, and I love our friendliness," he expands. "I've travelled a little bit and people love Irish people and we've a great country, we've a great identity, and I think I always wanted to stay in Ireland."

He never went back after Christmas. He hung around and won three All-Ireland senior medals in his next four seasons.

It begs the question if he ever stops to ask himself: what if I had stayed in Australia?

"When it's raining, maybe!" he laughs.

"Not really, no. I wouldn't at all, really. Sure, I've made lifelong friends, lifelong memories, met some wonderful people, made some lovely friends all around the country.

"I've won a couple of All-Irelands, been on a great journey with my club, my county. Met great people through college, through the educational side of things.

"Do you know, I've been very fortunate and very lucky to be where I am today and to be at this event even," he adds, alluding to Sure's recent launch of its second year as official statistics partner of the GAA.

"So, I have to be appreciative of that."

The AFL's loss has been Dublin's gain.

"Even if I stayed there, you would always have been looking back at the club and county," he points out.

"I wanted to go over and see what it was like but I always - in the back of my head - knew I was going to be going back playing for my club and Dublin."

Regrets would have been far more pronounced if he had stayed and watched Dublin's dominance from a great hemispheric distance.

Struggling

"Oh my God, yeah! I wouldn't be able to live with myself if that was the case! And the team that I was with, Hawthorn, are struggling at the moment; they're not going through a good patch.

"The memories, even going to the sea with lads, going for food or trips away. The bonds and craic and memories … life goes very quickly, and this will probably be the most special time in my life, the next ten years. The bonds that you make are just lifelong, and what you remember when you're 70 years of age."

That can wait: at this pivotal mid-summer juncture, this 24 year-old only cares about the here and now of Kildare.

Kilkenny is 'on message' when asked if recent routs (by 16 points in 2013, 19 in 2015) might colour Dublin's perception of their born-again challengers. Instead he cites some massive underage battles from the past (the 2010 minor saga springs immediately to mind) and even the fact that Dublin required a late (not to mind contentious) Bernard Brogan free to pip the Lilies in 2011.

Close

And if Sunday turns out to be just as close?

He would obviously love the chance to seal it with a late goal, just to follow up his first ever 'major' for the seniors against Westmeath last month - only this time when it really mattered.

"The adrenaline you get from that, I'd say, is brilliant. But, in saying that, scoring that goal the other day, or scoring a point or doing anything … the last five minutes when a game is in the melting pot is the best adrenaline you can get ever."

Swap that for Australia? Never!

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