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Friday 6 December 2019

'My mindset completely changed for replay'

Kilkenny admits frustration at focus on Dublin resources in days after their five in a row victory

Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny was told to go for scores in the All-Ireland replay. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny was told to go for scores in the All-Ireland replay. Photo: Sportsfile

The numbers tell their own story but thankfully, Ciarán Kilkenny is the mood to build some context around them.

He sits down to chat just hours after disembarking a flight from New York, where he has spent the previous week with Dean Rock and Paddy Andrews decompressing from the footballing year and its feverish immediate aftermath.

Here, Kilkenny is relaxed and talkative. The war is over. The spoils are his.

"When that final whistle blew," he says of the replayed All-Ireland final, "I've never felt anything like that before in my life."

It's not just another medal Kilkenny can reflect chirpily on.

Statistics released yesterday by Sure, the GAA's official stats partner, tell the tale of two contrasting performances from Kilkenny in the All-Ireland finals played a fortnight apart.

As such, his personal story of the last leg of Dublin's five-in-a-row is a mini redemption sub-plot in its own right.

"We had a meeting with the guys after the (drawn) game," Kilkenny explains, "the management team and a few players, they just said, 'Ciarán, we need you to get scoring'.

"So my mindset completely changed for the second game.

"I was like, 'as soon as I get this ball I'm going to take my man on and I'm either going to get a shot away or I'm going to put him under pressure to try to create a free'.

"So my mindset shifted."

Scarce

The results were bracing.

In the draw, Kilkenny had no shot on Shane Ryan's goal from his 37 possessions.

Two weeks later, he had four from 42, scoring each one and finishing with RTÉ's official Man of the Match award.

His pass retention improved also but it was the sight of Kilkenny driving aggressively at goal with those early possessions that lingered on a day when big Dublin performances weren't scarce.

"Our inside forwards were playing really well all year, they were electric all year," Kilkenny outlined, "so my mindset for that (first) game was as soon as I get the ball, give it to the best man in the best position.

"Get these guys on the ball, look up for them, see if I can get them (on the ball), look up and move the ball forward to them."

Between them, Kilkenny, Con O'Callaghan and Paul Mannion quadrupled their output in the space of 13 days, filling the blanks left by the bizarre lack of scoreable frees Dublin were awarded.

There was, Kilkenny insists, nothing particularly technical about his updated modus operandi.

"They said, 'We need you to get into these positions, we back you 100 per cent. Just go out enjoy the game, be yourself'.

"I remember Declan Darcy was just saying to me, 'Pretend that you're a kid, that you're an eight-year-old again.

"Do what's instinctive to you. Don't be worrying about what's going on. Just go for it and enjoy it'.

"That was the simple message, 'Just go for it and enjoy it and do your thing'. That was it."

That was the night of Saturday, September 14.

By the following Wednesday, Kilkenny had departed for Manhattan with Rock and Andrews.

They saw the Yankees and played golf and gained new appreciation for their achievements in random dispatches and chance encounters.

Before that though, the subject of Dublin's dominance of the senior inter-county football scene was deemed sufficiently serious to warrant an item on RTÉ's Prime Time.

"It was a bit frustrating to see that," Kilkenny admits now, "because I thought it was a pretty special thing we did.

"And it was down to a lot of people that have given up their own time, club mentors and development squads, parents dropping kids to training within the group, parents who a lot would have played for Dublin."

"For me, at the end of the day, you still have to run, to play, to practice.

"If you see where we train in the off season, it's muddy, there's no warm showers.

"You have to put in the hard yards, and that's what we've done over the last number of years, lads put their life on hold for this team and each other."

It is clear in the openness with which Kilkenny speaks that a significant source of pressure has been released.

For all the feigned ambivalence about the significance of winning a fifth All-Ireland title in-a-row in the weeks and months beforehand, the relief of having done it now is palpable with these Dublin players.

Whatever happens next, their story is enshrined in GAA history.

"Yeah, lads can just go out and enjoy themselves, I think, now," says Kilkenny.

"You never know how things are going to go.

"But from just talking to some of the guys, I think they're saying we have done this, this massive achievement that has never been done and just go out and have the craic next year.

"I was on the flight home with Dean Rock and the two of us were talking about next year, and we were just talking about small, little bits and pieces where we can improve.

"The two of us are two of the senior players," he adds, "just do the best we can to ensure we are content at the end of our career."

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