Minor miracle required to revive football in Kilkenny
Just one player turns up for county minor football trials
No football team excites as much comment or criticism as the eternal strugglers from Kilkenny and the news that just one player showed up for minor trials will provoke further hand-wringing about the state of the big ball game throughout Noreside.
The constantly bleak standard of Gaelic football in Kilkenny is a GAA puzzle which never ends. Nothing sums up the unspoken friction between hurling Gaels and football Gaels as the varying standards of both games in the county. Kilkenny football has become a metaphor for awfulness. Sometimes it is worth checking the score of league games just to wince and it was the succession of terrible defeats which led to withdrawal of the senior team from the league.
The apparent readiness of the county board to allow its Gaelic football culture to remain in a comically miserable state infuriates many Gaels who interpret it as a reflection of their lack of interest in football in general. Football Gaels can be very sensitive about the sense that hurling Gaels believe their game to be superior.
Kilkenny can make the perfectly reasonable response that they don’t go about lamenting and criticising the state of hurling in those many counties where Gaelic football is the ‘first’ game. And it is an unassailable point: there is a common sense that while hurling will flourish where hurling always has, there is a duty to improve the standard of Gaelic football right through across the island. In Kilkenny that isn’t happening and if the poignant image of just one lad showing up for county trials is a yardstick, then it isn’t going to change any decade soon.
Technically, there isn’t any reason why Kilkenny men can’t be good at football. There is no reason why the balletic grace and sinew with which black and amber teams play hurling should turn to clumsiness as soon as they attempt to kick a football around the place. Wasn’t DJ Carey, one of the supreme stylists and goal poachers of modern hurling, known to moonlight as a footballer every so often?
It isn’t too hard to imagine that if the current Kilkenny hurling team had been practicing football rather the stick game since boyhood they could make a formidable team. Brian Cody has the look of a big, uncompromising full back full stop – in hurling or football. And let’s imagine that Cody steps away from managing Kilkenny next year. And just say he is approached to give “a dig out” to the Gaelic football side of the house and he makes improving the game his pet project? There is probably no doubt that such a figure who generates such monumental respect would be able to influence youngsters on the joys of taking up ice hockey if he wanted.
Maybe some other former hurling greats who were handy at football could come out and give clinics and sell the idea those games can complement each other.
But the problem is that they don’t. The dual player has now become a romanticised figure of the past. Trying to play both games at the elite level is deeply stressful for the player trying to keep managers in both codes happy. And both sports exert different demands on the body.