Boost for Dublin as Kilkenny returns
GAELIC GAMES:It felt like a flippant question at the time, when last month, during one of his first formal engagements as senior manager, Jim Gavin was asked just how big a loss Ciarán Kilkenny would be to Dublin football.
“We still have a lot of talent in the forwards,” answered Gavin, without expanding. Of course we all knew that, although did Gavin perhaps know something we didn’t, that Kilkenny wasn’t necessarily gone from the Dublin forwards, or at least not for very long?
Truth is no one knows the exact motivation behind Kilkenny’s change of heart, his decision to not, after all, pursue a professional career with AFL club Melbourne Hawthorn, beyond the “personal reasons” Kilkenny himself cited, but it’s not impossible that Gavin played some role in this, given their very close relationship from the latter’s previous role as Dublin under-21 football manager. Nor is Kilkenny the first young AFL recruit to find the lure of the GAA impossible to resist, although the swiftness of his change of heart is striking.
Still only 19 (he doesn’t turn 20 until July), he’s now poised to make an unquestionably exciting impact on Dublin’s season, the most immediate benefit of his return being in boosting the county’s defence of that All-Ireland under-21 title, which Kilkenny played a pivotal role in securing last year.
He’s equally certain to walk on to Gavin’s senior panel, after already being called up last year by then manager Pat Gilroy, and kicking three points in Dublin’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Mayo. What is also certain, at least for now, is Kilkenny is entirely comfortable with his change of heart.
“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,” said Kilkenny, in a statement initially posted on his own Twitter account, then carried on the GAA website.
Kilkenny officially signed with Hawthorn last September, and had completed six weeks’ pre-season training with the club late last year, before returning home for Christmas.
Somewhere in between, however, he decided he wasn’t going back: “I thoroughly enjoyed my experience in Australia, and am extremely grateful to Hawthorn for providing me with the opportunity to experience life as a professional athlete in a wonderful country. The professionalism of the club was exemplary and they always made me feel very welcome.
“However, seeing Australia and a different way of life, also served to bring home to me the things that make Ireland so special. Obviously family and friends are important but I also came to really appreciate the things that make Ireland unique, such as the people in general, the way of life and, of course, the GAA.
“As much as I enjoyed the lifestyle of a professional Aussie Rules player and relished the challenge of achieving in a different code, I realised that it would never matter as much to me as the sense of community and joy I get from togging out and playing alongside the people with whom I grew up and live.