Kilkenny return: Bolt from the Blue
12:45, 10 Jan 2013
Ciaran Kilkenny has decided to leave AFL side Hawthorn and return to the GAA — we take a look at why the Castleknock man is returning to the smaller pond
Ciaran Kilkenny’s return to GAA proves that nothing is certain in sport.
It does so in the same manner that Marty Clarke’s return Down Under did, so who knows if Kilkenny makes the jump back in the future. The timing of an opportunity can make it more or less appealing though, and that may have been a factor; a 19-year-old living away from home for the first time may find the change too much in terms of homesickness; merely going to college in a different county at that age can sometimes be daunting.
It’s one thing to go up the Gold Coast with your friends in a VW surfer van and a few slabs of beer for a few months at his age, it’s quite another to go down there to be a professional athlete. Cans and finding new Facebook friends does not quite compare with the pressures of life in the AFL.
The question is why he made this decision so quickly. Either Kilkenny is a decisive sort and knew from early on that it wasn’t for him, or the rashness of youth compelled him to leave without allowing sufficient time to settle in.
“It may seem like a short time to spend in Australia but I have always given absolute commitment to any team in which I was involved and I feel it would be unfair on both Hawthorn and myself to continue in a situation where I am not 100% committed and happy in myself,” Kilkenny said in a statement.
There’s no disputing that and, overall, he came across extremely well in his statement. One wonders, looking outside the box, if there were other factors. Kilkenny is a player that has long been seen as a great hope for Dublin GAA, a big fish in a small pond. Going Down Under, perhaps the reality that he was just another fish that needed to work up the food chain may have, subconsciously, been difficult to come to terms with.
From scoring 0-3 in his senior Dublin debut against Mayo in an All-Ireland semi-final in 2012 and attracting the talk of the town, Kilkenny would have had to adjust to starting fresh on another ladder. Because being realistic, in Ireland, there is no bigger show in town than Dublin football. Nowhere else in GAA are the lights are bright, is the attention as great, and is the exposure as constant. A player does not need to be an egomaniac for this to be the case, and we’re certainly not accusing him of that.
“My aspiration would be to play an AFL game in the first year,” Kilkenny said in early December 2012.
“Obviously it’s going to be difficult for me coming over to a new country, a new game. But my main priority is to learn the basics of the game and hopefully get some VFL games under my belt and go from there.”
Perhaps the reality is that Kilkenny was not showing the same precocity in the AFL as he did at home, where his name preceded him. Then it came down to a straight decision: he could play in the shadows of the VFL or look to win All-Irelands at home.
As it is, all we can go on for now is what he has told us. “I’ve come to realise also that although I enjoy the game of Australian Rules football, it could never replace the satisfaction I get from the round ball or a sliotar. Sport has always been something I did for enjoyment and I have found that it’s not something I can do merely because it’s my job. The passion I feel for hurling and football is not transferrable to any other sport and seeing my neighbours and teammates happy when we do well is reward enough.
“Going to live in Australia was never something I felt I had to do. I always said however that if I didn’t go I might have doubts or questions later on in life but having spent some time there now I’m happy that that those doubts and questions will not arise. Now I’m looking forward to getting back involved in what I feel truly passionate about, hurling and football with my club, and seeing where that takes me.”
His return is bad new for Kenmare Shamrocks, who will face Kilkenny and Castleknock in the All-Ireland JFC semi-final on 27 January. No doubt his presence, and of course his talent, will make a huge impact on the fixture. It may also buffer his reassimilation into the GAA that he is not jumping back in with headline-making Dublin from the get-go.
After that, the question is which code Kilkenny focuses on, or whether he goes down the Eoin Cadogan route of juggling both. Certainly his statement continually name-checks both codes. Anthony Daly’s eyebrow will still be arching at the news of the youngster’s return from Hawthorn, and he will be wondering how he can organise a timeshare with Jim Gavin et al for Kilkenny’s talents. Not forgetting, of course, that the player is also eligible for under-21 duty in both codes.
Fast-forward a couple of years and we may again be speaking of Kilkenny going back Down Under. Perhaps; though perhaps not. Down’s Clarke always seemed destined for a return to Collingwood and that may not be the case with the Dubliner.
“Going to live in Australia was never something I felt I had to do. I always said however that if I didn’t go I might have doubts or questions later on in life but having spent some time there now I’m happy that that those doubts and questions will not arise,” he said.
Whether it’s his decisive nature or the rashness of youth, we’ll have to wait and see. What’s the AFL’s loss is the GAA’s gain for now, though it may only be us Irish and Kilkenny who realise that.
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