| 11°C Dublin

Kilkenny's back from out of blue

WHEN Ciarán Kilkenny trained with Castleknock's senior footballers on Tuesday night, his team-mates assumed his presence was merely the last stop of a flying visit and it would be the guts of a year before they set eyes on him again.

They play Kenmare Shamrocks on January 27 in the AIB All-Ireland club JFC semi-finals and it goes without saying that after events of the last 24 hours, their chances are looking decidedly up.

"On a personal level, you would just be hoping he has made the right decision and that he won't have regrets about it in the future," said Dessie Farrell in conversation with the Evening Herald, Kilkenny's manager right the way through the underage football ranks and now - or in the coming weeks at least - his Dublin under-21 boss.

"We all realise how talented he is and there is a lot of appeal in professional sports for young men and this was an opportunity that Ciarán worked hard to create for himself.

"No doubt, knowing the young man and his family, they would have teased it out from every end and every which way and arrived at the conclusion that he was better to stay home.

If Kilkenny's club-mates were shocked to hear the news . . . well, so was everyone else.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the decision is not that Kilkenny has walked away from a pro career or a life in the sun, but that it had not been mooted anywhere at all.

There was been no talk of it in Parnell Park on Wednesday night as Dublin bumped and tumbled their way to an 11-point win over DCU as those in attendance ooh-ed and aw-ed at Paul Hudson's impressive January scoring form in an area of the pitch where Kilkenny will now certainly come into serious consideration for Jim Gavin.

And speaking afterwards in a boardroom tucked away on the ground floor of the Dublin county board offices, Gavin didn't appear to be aware of any impending decision, although nor was he quizzed specifically on the subject.

Similarly, the Dublin hurling management were caught completely unawares by the announcement while a section of the statement released by his jilted AFL club Hawthorn suggests they were totally in the dark too.

Their recruiting and list manager, Graham Wright, is quoted as saying: "Ciarán transitioned into the club well, enjoyed all aspects of training and all of his feedback was positive, so news of his decision was quite unexpected."

Given that Kilkenny was actually living with Wright and was due to return to his home, the word 'unexpected' probably should have been underlined and bolded.

Between that and the fact that the decision was announced on the very day he was set to fly back to Australia suggests something of a last-minute change of heart but Farrell, who has stayed in close contact since Kilkenny's move to Australia and through his visit home, is certain there was nothing hasty about it.

"He was keeping his cards close to his chest," he explained.

"It was a major decision he was making. He has a very set, defined set of values. He's not particularly motivated by material things. I think he just said to himself: 'My heart is not in this. My passion is Gaelic games and that's what I want to do.' It's a very courageous decision to make. Life's too short not to do what's best for yourself."

So, where now for Ciarán Kilkenny?

He had deferred an Arts degree in UCD and understandably, Farrell is hugely conscious of the knock-on effect his decision will have on the non-sporting part of his life.

"What's important for him is that he takes some time and gets some space," he insisted. "He had set out on a career over the last few months and that has gone now, so he has to figure out what he wants to do now outside of sport."

Within the sporting spectrum, there will be no shortage of offers for his time and talents but Castleknock's big day on the 27th of this month could well be the first time he is seen back in competitive GAA action.

He will certainly be with the under 21 footballers and the seniors too while Shay Boland - his minor hurling manager - will, no doubt, covet his presence in his own under-21 hurling panel.

After that, it's just a case of whether he can combine both codes. Farrell is certain he will readjust with typical ease. "It would be no great surprise to see him have an impact this year again," he stressed. "He may need some time and there will be nobody putting him under pressure. But knowing the fella, he'll probably throw himself straight back into it."