READING THROUGH THE refreshing and mature statement that Ciarán Kilkenny released yesterday, one thing stood out.
Here is a young player who is passionate about the GAA.
Clearly it was a very well thought through decision for the player to leave his AFL career and move back home to play for his club and county.
His reasons for that were spelt out clearly and came across very well.
Sometimes there is an inclination to knock the GAA. But if it wants to promote itself as the great institution that it is, here’s a perfect example of a young talented guy who is endorsing that view.
It’s hard to double-guess Kilkenny but certainly there was plenty to entice him home if he was not happy with his lot in Australia. I’ve spoken to Jim Gavin since he took the Dublin job. He mentioned the youth and energy that currently exists in his panel.
A lot of those guys have been teammates of Kilkenny’s at minor and U21 level, so he must have wanted to be a part of something exciting like that.
There’s also the fact that his club Castleknock are in the All-Ireland junior semi-final at the end of the month. That is a huge thing for any club, particularly one as recently-formed as they are.
It’s natural if the potential prize of playing in Croke Park with childhood friends, if they win their semi-final, helped tip the scales towards coming home.
For Dublin it is a huge boost to get this early in the season. For supporters the news of the return of a player who it appeared had been lost to their team, is something to rejoice in.
In my native Down, I would have familiar with those emotions with the case of Marty Clarke. Down does not win as much silverware at minor and U21 level so when a wonderfully gifted player from those teams like Clarke left for Australia, the GAA community in the county was in collective mourning.
Then when the news broke of his impending return home, the inclination was almost to get everyone out on the street in celebration and to welcome him home.
He was a massive addition to Down football, as evidenced by his contribution in 2010 when he nearly helped the county claim Sam Maguire. His departure back to Collingwood at the end of 2011 was then a massive setback.
Down’s Martin Clarke. Pic: INPHO/Ryan Byrne.
Dublin will look forward to having Kilkenny at their disposal. He’s a very talented player as his underage displays in recent years proved.
And then last year for the All-Ireland semi-final when Dublin were robbed of a player of the calibre of Alan Brogan through injury, Pat Gilroy trusted Kilkenny enough to put him in from the start.
That was a big and bold call for a player who was just a year out of minor. But he rewarded that faith by playing very well in a game of such magnitude. I think his best position is close to goal where he can be a serious threat. He’s good on the ball, has good feet, is strong and can take a score off both feet.
But we have to be realistic here. Ciarán is still very young and is eligible for U21 football this year and next year. His talent and potential are unquestioned but there are higher levels to reach and he has not yet been exposed to senior inter-county football for a prolonged period of time.
Jim Gavin is a clever operator and he’s not going to be lumping too much expectations on Kilkenny. For one thing the player has been absent from Gaelic football for a couple of months and exposed to a different type of training.
He’ll need time to adjust and as it is early in the season, there is no urgent need to rush him back into action. With commitments to Castleknock and the Dublin U21′s, there needs to be a balance struck with Kilkenny and Jim is the type of manager to do that.
It’s a positive development for the GAA as well. We want the best young players to be lining out and Kilkenny falls neatly into that bracket. It’s interesting that despite all the anxiety about Australian Rules, the number of players that the GAA have lost is exceptionally low. Particularly when you consider the amount that have returned to Ireland as well.
It’s proof that the GAA can hold it’s own as a sport. Perhaps that’s something we should be singing from the rooftops rather than hiding under a bush. Ciarán Kilkenny’s statement demonstrates that.