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Saturday 21 July 2018

'We just focus on playing the games'

Ciarán unmoved by Donegal's Croke Park 'unfairness' debate

TO BE SURE: Sure ambassador, Dublin footballer Ciarán Kilkenny, yesterday in Croke. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
TO BE SURE: Sure ambassador, Dublin footballer Ciarán Kilkenny, yesterday in Croke. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Here's another anomaly for the rapidly escalating debate about what Croke Park represents in regard to the Dublin footballers.

Ciarán Kilkenny made his senior debut in 2012 in an All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo that stands in isolation as the only Championship defeat of his inter-county career to date.

Yet he has never played for the Dublin seniors in Parnell Park.

He can't count the number of times he has lined out there for underage county teams and Castleknock at all levels in two codes.

But never - not in almost six seasons - for the seniors.

Yet for all that, Croke Park still feels like the GAA's home rather than Dublin's place of business to Ciarán Kilkenny.

Naturally, they are more familiar with its dimensions and each nook and cranny than any other panel of players currently in operation.

Yet he sees the stadium as the stage on which almost all of the GAA's most iconic moments have been played out, albeit also a ground that services the needs of Dublin's support in the earlier part of the year.

"I see Croke Park as the centre, of kind of our sacred turf that every boy, no matter if you're from Dublin or any other part of the country, when you grow up you dream of playing at Croke Park," he said yesterday at a promotional appearance that probably wasn't ideally timed for Kilkenny, coming just hours after Donegal's statement was issued.

"When you go home from games when you're younger and you're kicking the ball, you dream of playing at Croke Park.

"I suppose the fact that we play our National League games at Croke Park is to facilitate that all the boys and girls can go and see the games in Croke Park and the fact that there are 80,000 seats in Croke Park, essentially we rent it out during the National League and it's great that we can give those boys and girls the opportunity to go and see their heroes from their local areas and their local clubs."

Kilkenny has played many and varied roles for Dublin but yesterday, he was forced into all-out defence about the burning GAA topic of the day.

It was plain to see from Kilkenny's body language that the debate over whether Dublin play two matches in Croke Park during the forthcoming 'Super 8' round robin wasn't exactly what he would prefer to be talking about.

He is a Dublin footballer.

Ergo, Croke Park is where he would prefer to play all matches due to its convenience and ability to house everyone who wants to see the team.

If Donegal have a gripe and Croke Park agree, well frankly, that's outside his sphere of influence.

So when he says "we, as footballers, just focus on football and playing games," it's half because he doesn't want to stir the pot and half because he's not overly exercised by issues such as venue selection.

As for the 'Super 8s' themselves, Kilkenny admits: "We don't know what's ahead.

"It's something new, something different, something exciting.

"As a player, we could be going down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh or Healy Park and that's really exciting for us and our supporters, travelling to either of those venues.

Physical

"And you're playing three games, week-in, week-out. That's obviously going to bring a lot of mental and physical challenges as well."

Kilkenny is in the scoring form of his life, having scored 2-15 in just three Leinster SFC games.

Prior to this year, he had scored just one senior goal for Dublin.

"I'm playing closer to goal but still playing a little bit out the field sometimes," he notes.

"If I can contribute to the team that way and get a few scores then that's great but we don't know how the year is going to progress.

"I might be pushed out or needed somewhere else the next day so you have to appreciate that as well."

Venue controversies aside, Kilkenny is the form footballer in the country as the Championship nears a brand new dawn with a wider range of possibilities.

And having missed a season prior through injury, he is inclined to appreciate it all the more.

"That gave me a lot of perspective on sports and family and life," he say of the ACL injury he suffered in 2014.

"In sport there are no guarantees what is coming around the corner.

"Click of the fingers and it was gone for me, I couldn't play Gaelic football for 12 months.

"Every time I train or play I just take a moment and recognise how special it is to be around that group of guys."

Every time I train or play I just take a moment and recognise how special it is to be around that group of guys

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