Breaking barriers continues to be a matter of point for Kerry hurling

Kingdom coming as Leinster hurling has new and unlikely contestants for 2016

The most novel part of the championship draw on Thursday night didn’t involve a single ball nor a single bowl. The round-robin section of the Leinster hurling championship was pre-determined but even allowing for prior knowledge, it was still something notable to see Kerry in there along with Offaly, Westmeath and Carlow.

The winner of the group will play Galway in a Leinster quarter-final, the runner-up will play Laois. Come what may, Kerry are back in the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship for the first time in 16 years.

Heady times

Coupled with this weekend’s expected appointment of Ciarán Carey as their new manager, it makes for heady times down around north Kerry. There’s a team holiday to Florida on the horizon as a reward for winning the

Christy Ring Cup


and a spring campaign in Division 1B playing against Clare, Wexford, Laois, Limerick and Offaly.

There will be sinking and there will be swimming and if they can get through the first year with their chins above the surf, they’ll go into the championship buzzing.

“There’s more buzz about playing in Division 1B than the Leinster Championship, to be honest about it,” says county chairman Patrick O’Sullivan. “We have to take it one step at a time and that’s the first step. It’s about getting games at our level, games that we’re going to be able to compete in.

“For us to get anywhere, it’s no good getting 20-point hammerings in the championship. To get meaningful games, you have to go to where the games are and whatever has to be done will be done.

“Our minors played in the Leinster league last year and hopefully soon the under-21 structure gets sorted out. There was supposed to be a second tier under-21 competition with groups of six but it has sort of fallen apart over the last number of years. If we can get that going properly and provide a stepping stone from minor to senior, then the efforts that are going into Kerry hurling will be more meaningful.”

That those efforts will always run into a good thick glass ceiling in the most football of football counties only makes them more commendable. Kerry beat Westmeath and Carlow last year and the year before and will spend the spring playing a division higher than both of them. A Leinster quarter-final is a thoroughly achievable goal.

And goals matter. Kerry GAA is a place where success is the greatest fuel for improvement. O’Sullivan knows he will live his whole life in a football county but he knows too that every step along the way comes spring-loaded.

“I come from a football part of the county in Killarney. The credit goes to the hurling officer and the work that’s being done under him. They are putting in huge work to try and be competitive and the county board is there to support them. We need to get high-calibre coaches into the county to work with the development squads and bring a bit more profile to it.

“I see young lads in Kerry at 12 years of age and they’re just as good as 12-year-olds in Kilkenny. But the problem is that as they get older, the hurling gets faster in hurling counties and we’re left behind. You can see it when you take those same groups to play at under-14 or under-16 tournaments: the players from the hurling counties have sped up their hurling to a huge extent and we’re playing catch-up straight away.”

Another hurdle

Just as Galway and Antrim have had to do, Kerry will travel to all their games in Leinster. Not that O’Sullivan has any issue with that – it’s just another hurdle to hop.

“We have a long road and it’s not going to happen overnight. It could take us another four or five years just to get to another level. But the hurling officer is making great strides and everyone is very committed. The players are buying in and the county is backing them. I can’t see us changing the whole thing overnight but as a county we’re very positive towards it.”

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times