Lyng unfazed by expectations as he settles into Kilkenny hot seat

Six-time All-Ireland winner comfortable in his own skin as he focuses on the task of maximising the Noresiders’ considerable potential

Derek Lyng sits down. Taking over from the king. Assuming the throne. Top Cat, now. He’s heard them all.

The poisoned chalice of coming in immediately after the most successful manager in the history of the game and how a wiser man would have allowed somebody else take that thankless first swing? Yes, he’s heard that one as well.

“No, it didn’t enter my mind at all, that doesn’t bother me,” says Lyng. “I don’t wake up every day comparing myself to anybody else, to be honest.”

“I’m privileged to get the job but I’m determined to just get working on it and put my own stamp on it. The expectations are always there with Kilkenny, that’s to be as successful as you can possibly be, winning All-Irelands, that’s no different for me.


“That’s fine. I have no issue with that. It’s something that we’re working towards every week and for me at the minute it’s taking it on a week-by-week basis.”

Lyng is speaking in Nowlan Park at the launch of Avonmore’s continuing sponsorship of Kilkenny GAA. As he speaks, peering down over his shoulder are epic life-size photographs splashed across the wall of TJ Reid and DJ Carey doing their thing.

Lyng played his entire Kilkenny senior career under Brian Cody, winning six All-Irelands. After retiring, he was asked by Cody to act as a selector – a role he carried out between 2014 and 2019. More recently he managed the Kilkenny under-20s, guiding them to All-Ireland glory last May.

Cody stepped down in August, ending an incredible 24 seasons at the helm. Kilkenny officials felt Lyng had served his apprenticeship. He was the man they wanted.

“I had no idea Brian was going,” adds Lyng. “I think it was probably a bit of a shock at the time to everybody involved, I kind of assumed Brian was going to stay on for another while.

“Last year was a relatively successful year in terms of getting to the All-Ireland final. But I was contacted by the county board then and it was a straightforward process as far as I was concerned. I didn’t have to take too long once I was offered the job. I was very privileged and honoured to be offered it.”

In recent weeks Cody hasn’t inflicted the extra pressure of being an omnipresent Alex Ferguson-esque figure in the stand as Lyng started out on his journey. But Cody did get in touch to wish him well on the voyage.

“Yeah, look, to be fair, when I got the job he did congratulate me, as he would with anybody,” says Lyng. “Brian’s priority all the time is Kilkenny hurling and he’s a massive supporter of it.

“I came across him recently at a medal presentation as well and he’s very supportive, wondering how things are going and very encouraging that way. I’m obviously very grateful for what he did for me in my career but as I step into the job now I’m taking it on myself and trying to put my own stamp on it.”

Management and coaching were something he always had a strong interest in but, at 44, Lyng probably didn’t expect to be holding court in one of the most successful dressingrooms in Irish sport.

He has three kids – Ruth, Jack and Conal, ranging in ages from 12-8 – so life away from hurling is busy. Still, there is rarely a perfect time and often you just have to grab an opportunity when it arises, for it might not come to you again.

“To be honest, my gut feeling, I wanted to take the job once I was offered it,” he recalls. “I had no hesitation. Obviously you have to consider your family and I had conversations with my wife who has been very supportive; my family were very supportive and that’s the most important thing.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have that level of support because I’ve [always] been involved in hurling essentially since I finished playing really.”

Over the next few weeks we will get a clearer indication of the stamp Lyng wants to put on his Kilkenny team. There has already been evidence of a shorter game, though Cody’s Kilkenny too had too been mixing it up more during his last few years at the helm.

“The reality of it is that we have to be able to adapt to certain situations in different games,” says Lyng. “Teams set up differently now, that’s the reality of it. And we have to be comfortable playing various different styles.

“I like players to be able to make decisions on the field of play, being comfortable enough to do that and being comfortable enough to play those various different styles.”

The Ballyhale players are returning to the Kilkenny squad on a case-by-case basis, but Lyng says TJ Reid is unlikely to see game-time over the next few weeks as Kilkenny want to have him right for the championship.

“At the minute, no, not for the next two or three games, no,” says Lyng on Reid returning to action.

Kilkenny’s post-Cody era really dusts off the covers this Sunday when Tipperary arrive to Nowlan Park. It feels like the first really significant match of Lyng’s reign. But none of this is daunting for him.

“Look, if you try to compare yourself to Brian or try to look at it from that perspective, I don’t think I would have went for the job,” he says.

“Once I feel that we’re maximising the potential of the team and that we’re working really hard as a group, that’s my expectation. Whatever happens after that, happens.”

He has big shoes to fill. The biggest. And as he arises from the seat, you can’t help but smile at the coincidental branding of his shoe choice for the day: Boss.

Derek Lyng, walking his own path.

*Avonmore will in 2023 continue to sponsor all Kilkenny hurling and football teams from under-14 to senior.

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times