Limerick v Cork: Shane Kingston can prove to be much more than a supersub for the Rebels

Despite his talent, Kingston has played just nine full matches in eight championship seasons

The first thing Shane Kingston did against Clare last Sunday was run the wrong way. It wasn’t obvious from the television pictures at the time and you could only pick it up when you saw the camera angle from the cherry picker up behind the Cork goal. But with his side trailing by seven points and him only just in off the bench, it was a perfectly-timed sleight of feet. He changed direction, in every sense of the word.

As Darragh Fitzgibbon came steaming through on to a handpass in midfield, Kingston was standing on the outside of his marker Seadna Morey on the top left of the D. He had already run out from the small square to open up space in front of the Clare goal and was now studiously ignoring it, banking on Morey to do the same. The temptation to go into it immediately was huge – Fitzgibbon would have picked him out without a second thought. But instead, Kingston delayed and went the other way.

He turned towards the stand, enticing Morey to go with him and shifting the Clare defender’s weight on to his outside foot. Then Kingston suddenly whipped around 240 degrees and scythed inside, giving him a step on Morey and a clear lane to the Clare goal. All Morey could do was try and keep up, eventually grabbing an elbow in defeat and conceding the penalty that brought Cork back into the game.

It was an elite piece of forward play from Kingston. The timing, the deception, the speed and power once he got on the ball were everything Cork needed from him at that exact stage of the game. It was exactly what Pat Ryan had sent him on to do, just 64 seconds earlier.


And there’s the rub. Though Kingston has been named to start against Limerick this weekend, he’s been a second-half substitute in each of their three Munster Championship games before this. This is his eighth season playing championship hurling for Cork and he turns 26 in August. Yet you wouldn’t say he’s any closer to a nailed-on starting spot than he was when he made his debut a few weeks after his Leaving Cert.

“Shane is a very relaxed character,” says Eoin Cadogan, his Douglas and (former) Cork team-mate who grew up 100 yards away from the Kingstons. “If I was in his shoes and I wasn’t being started or I was repeatedly coming on as a sub, I’d be knocking the manager’s door down. But Shane is a different individual. He doesn’t get too stressed. He doesn’t get too high or too low about hurling.”

Which is maybe just as well, given the frustrations of Kingston’s intercounty career to date. The Clare cameo was his 35th championship games for Cork and the 26th in which he has either started or finished his day on the bench. He has featured in every one of Cork’s championship games since coming on against Dublin in a qualifier in 2016 but has only ever played nine full matches.

Yet the last thing anyone questions is Kingston’s talent. He has been earmarked for a serious intercounty career since his early teens. Ronan Dwane, who was heavily involved in the Cork development squads he came through, can’t remember a more talented dual player in the county in the past 20 years.

“He was exceptional,” Dwane says. “Both hurling and football, he was a brilliant player in both of them. He went to school in Rochestown and they made the final of both the Harty Cup and the Corn Uí Mhuirí in 2016 and he was their go-to guy in both teams. They played Thurles CBS and Dingle – they took Dingle to a replay. Shane was kicking frees with his left and his right.

“At that age, his graph was always going up and up. I wouldn’t think there has been a better dual player at that age in Cork since maybe Brian Corcoran. He made his debut for the senior hurlers as an 18-year-old and you could see he had the game for it. And his record has been very good, especially in terms of goals. It’s just the consistency that has been missing at times.”

In his 35 championship matches, Kingston has made 23 starts. He’s scored 8-60 in total, with 8-44 of it coming as a starter. He’s had his purple patches here and there – in 2021, he was the 10th highest scorer in the championship with 4-9 from play and only had free-takers up ahead of him in the table. Still, the standout display of that year came off the bench – a man of the match return of 0-7 from play against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final.

At the time, of course, the Cork manager was his father Kieran. At a press gig just before Christmas last year, Shane was only half-joking when he mused on the pros and cons of being the son of the head honcho. “From my perspective, there wasn’t much benefit, to be honest!

“Nah, he treated me the same as everybody else, really. Obviously, it’s a bit more awkward when you go home and I’m after being whipped off or not starting. There’s a bit of tension at home but we try and keep it separate as much as we can.”

Cadogan has watched the dynamic in every forum. Club, county, homeplace, everywhere. Shane’s obvious talent made some of it easier and some of it harder. There was never any suggestion that the son was given preferential treatment by the father. The opposite, if anything.

“I would say that in fairness to both Kieran and Shane, they never let the family situation come into it. Kieran was probably harder on him because he was his own son. To the point where Shane was probably wronged out of playing certain games. Kieran would be tough like that. Even when I played for him, he would have been very demanding of the people he would have been close to.

“That would have been his way with myself and Alan – he would have known us since we were kids. And he was no different with Shane. But Shane always parked that. It must have been a tricky one for them on a personal level but I thought they handled it well. Nobody could ever come and point the finger at Kieran and say Shane was picked on anything other than merit. I’d say he was harshly done out of a starting position sometimes.”

Under Pat Ryan, Kingston has had another stop-start season. He was Cork’s leading scorer in the league – with Patrick Horgan sitting out the spring campaign, Kingston took the frees in four of Cork’s six matches and came off the bench in the other two. His high point came early – an injury-time winner against Limerick in the league opener. All in all, he looked to have done as much as could have been asked of him.

Yet Kingston hasn’t started a game since the league semi-final at the end of March. In Cork’s three Munster championship games, he has come on late against Waterford, at half-time against Tipperary and eight minutes into the second half against Clare. To his credit, his impact has been significant each time.

Analysis of the three games shows that Kingston has got on the ball 11 times. From those 11 possessions, Cork have had 11 shots. Kingston has scored four points, played the last pass for 1-1 and been fouled for a further 1-1. The other three possessions led to wides – two for him and one for Conor Lehane. Now finally chosen to start against Limerick this weekend, those numbers are an obvious pointer as to why.

If Ryan was slow to start him, it was probably because of what he has offered without the ball. Those 11 possessions came from 20 balls that entered his orbit. Against Tipperary, Michael Breen beat him in two 50/50 tussles and was quicker out to another loose ball. Against Waterford, Conor Prunty beasted him twice. Against Clare, Morey recovered from being skinned in their first encounter to contaminate most of the ball that came near them for the rest of the game.

Across the three games, it’s no libel to say that Kingston has only one won ball that he wasn’t favourite for – a gorgeous flick-down of a puck-out against Tipperary that Seamus Harnedy dispatched for a point. That can’t be the case against Limerick. No future in it.

On Thursday night, Ryan named him in the team. Feels like a huge call.

No better time for Kingston to answer it.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times