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Kilkenny: You'd love having Jack around place ...

But loss of Dub flyer presents opportunity for others to capitalise on Farrell's open door policy

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Dublin footballers Ciarán Kilkenny and Sinéad Goldrick with Siún Brophy, the one millionth child to register for the Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps since the beginning of the Kellogg sponsorship in 2012. The 2020 GAA Cúl Camps began yesterday across the country.

Dublin footballers Ciarán Kilkenny and Sinéad Goldrick with Siún Brophy, the one millionth child to register for the Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps since the beginning of the Kellogg sponsorship in 2012. The 2020 GAA Cúl Camps began yesterday across the country.

SPORTSFILE

Dublin footballers Ciarán Kilkenny and Sinéad Goldrick with Siún Brophy, the one millionth child to register for the Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps since the beginning of the Kellogg sponsorship in 2012. The 2020 GAA Cúl Camps began yesterday across the country.

How do you turn such an obvious negative - the loss of Jack McCaffrey - into a potential positive?

Far easier said than done, but Ciarán Kilkenny does his level best to extract a glimmer of light from the absence of his long-time teammate and friend as Dublin pursue more All-Ireland history.

"You'd love to have Jack around," Kilkenny accepts, speaking on the opening day of the Kellogg's GAA Cúl Camps. "He's a great person, he's a great character, he's a great personality. You can feel his energy around the group - he's a great leader within the group. So, you just have to respect his decision.

"But also it's a great opportunity for a lot of players to perform now in the club championship, and the great thing about Dessie (Farrell) and his management team is that he has an open door policy. If Jack were to decide, or any players that are performing well ... they're always welcome to come back in."

Kilkenny and McCaffrey were the two standout stars on the fabled 'Class of '93', managed by Farrell, that suffered shock All-Ireland minor final defeat to Tipperary in 2011 only to bounce back from adversity, infinitely stronger.

Promoted

The pair were first promoted to the senior squad by Pat Gilroy in 2012 - the same year they had won an All-Ireland U21 medal on Jim Gavin's watch.

Since then, under Gavin, they have shared in five All-Ireland senior triumphs - in 2013, '15, and each of the last three years. Kilkenny was injured when Farrell's Dublin climbed back to the All-Ireland U21 summit (in 2014); McCaffrey's senior sabbatical in 2016 saw him miss out on the second leg of Dublin's Drive for Five.

Now, following the latter's decision to opt out again, Kilkenny is left to ponder another campaign without his jet-heeled partner-in-plunder.

But there is a silver lining, the Castleknock clubman maintains, looking ahead to this weekend's round-robin launch of the Dublin SFC.

"It's a great opportunity now over the couple of weeks for players to show off the skills that they've practised throughout the lockdown; to show off their physical fitness or gym work that they've done throughout the lockdown," says Kilkenny.

"And if they're performing well, then they'll get the opportunity."

This year's fixture calendar, turned on its head by Covid, has rekindled a long-abandoned dream: that a player might bolt straight into inter-county contention on foot of his club form.

"That's the beauty of it," says Kilkenny, who will skipper Castleknock in their SFC opener at home to St Oliver Plunkettt's/ER this Saturday.

"We've a good block of time now with the club, and everyone has at least three games to play - three games where they can go out and give their best."

Beyond that, virus-permitting, lies the unique challenge of defending Sam Maguire in a straight knockout, no second chances, winter All-Ireland.

Kilkenny prefers not to dwell on any glass-half-empty predictions about a second wave and what it might mean for an already-truncated season.

Asked about last Friday's message from president John Horan to the GAA's younger membership - "either you party or you play sport" - he replies: "I didn't hear those comments. As a county, we all have to adhere to and respect the guidelines ... we have been extra vigilant at club level."

What about the possibility of Dublin playing in a socially distant, half-deserted Croke Park, and how that might feel?

"You never know what is around the corner. These are very uncertain times. As a player you have to be optimistic as much as possible," he stresses. "Playing and exercising is very good for you as a person, and the actual release of playing and exercising in games is why I love playing the games."

Positives

Given the recent rise in Covid-19 positives, was he still confident that the All-Ireland would take place?

"I'm not a healthcare expert so I wouldn't be able to comment on that," he demurs, adding: "As a player you just have to be optimistic, you just have to keep training away, play your club games and just be as optimistic and positive as possible."

In fairness, few GAA players could claim to match Kilkenny's positivity during the interminable lockdown, as his daily skills challenge tutorials became a social media staple.

"The first nine weeks I was really immersed in doing skills videos online for kids on football and hurling. It was a really special time for me," he reflects.

"Every morning I'd be rolling around the bed thinking about what I was going to do with the kids that day; you'd take half an hour to an hour to think about what skill I was going to do.

"Myself and my Mam used to go down to Coolmine train station, and we had a wall there and did a skill there every day for nine weeks. My Mam video-recorded it and threw her hand at doing a few skills as well. Then I would have uploaded it online on Twitter and Instagram and throughout the whole day, until 10 or 11pm, I'd be getting engagement from the kids.

"A lot of them sent messages before they went back to the club, saying they had improved on their left or their right side ... it was really inspiring to hear that they had made that improvement and I was just delighted then that they could go back to play for their club."