IT’S NOT often that you catch a goalkeeper offguard, but Kilkenny netminder David Herity admitted he was taken by surprise in Nowlan Park last week, writes Trevor Spillane.
“I thought I was only coming here to stand in for a photograph!” the Dunnamaggin man smiled as he braved a media throng at the launch of Glanbia’s new three-year sponsorship deal with Kilkenny GAA.
Herity was given little or no warning as to what lay ahead when he responded to a request from a colleague to show his face for a photo.
“I was training with the Leinster hurling team and as we were driving off, Jackie (Tyrrell) popped his head in the window and asked me was I around to come in for a photograph,” he said.
“I couldn’t believe all the cars when I got in – I thought there was a meeting going on!”
Even though he’s now a well-established figure between the posts for Kilkenny, this side of the business is still new to Herity.
“I’m usually in Dublin (Herity is a schoolteacher), so you wouldn’t usually see this side of things,” he said.
“When the championship comes around I’m kept away from these type of things – maybe it’s for safety reasons!” he joked.
“I’ve done three interviewsm and I’m happy I haven’t messed up so far, but I can’t get over the amount of work that goes on with this side of things.”
The day served to highlight the incredible demand people have for Kilkenny hurling.
“I can’t get over the media interest for a day like this, from RTE to reporters from all over,” he said.
“It does show the nationwide appeal of hurling, but it has also shown me how much goes on behind the scenes,” he continued.
“We turn up for training at the weekendsm but we wouldn’t know half the amount of work that goes on during the week.
“The same goes for Glanbia and the amount of money they have given since they became the main sponsor in the 1990s,” he added. “It’s a long time, but it shows their commitment to hurling in the county.”
Commitment is a strong word, but it sums up what sponsors and players put to the cause to get to where they are – looking forward to defending league and All-Ireland titles.
“We hit the ground running straight away this year – the first night we were back together in January we did a fitness test, which was a bit of a shock to everyone, but lads are quick to get straight back into things,” he recalled.
“Lads enjoy the off-season, but as soon as you get the text message to say when you’re back in training, you take things seriously.
“There’s no messing about – you work hard for as long as the championship lasts. You put your head down for the year and do your best.”
There is a hunger in Kilkenny for more success, but it’s there among other counties too, who have been getting ready for 2013 before 2012 even ended!
“A few of us train with the Dublin lads in the DCU gym and I went there back in October, just to stretch out while the club matches were still going on,” he said. “There were groups of guys there from different counties who were going flat out in gym sessions – any day of the week they could have been there twice daily, and then they have to go home during the week for collective training.”
However, whether that is entirely beneficial is another thing.
“You have to wonder if they’re getting enough downtime,” he added.
“We’re lucky we get the right balance. We go until September, then we’re with our clubs before getting some time off.
“Lads keep themselves ticking over during the off-season – they don’t go completely off the boil – so when they do come back in January, they have a good level of fitness.
“Psychologically, just to relax is hugely important,” he continued.
“If you didn’t you’d come back mentally and physically drained when the proper part of the season, June and July, comes around.”
Physical rest is just as important, Herity agreed, as players require time off to fully recover.
What might not pose a problem during campaign can become troublesome after all of the niggles that build up over the year are felt.
“Without a doubt,” he said. “Playing in goal is a little different but you do notice it every year. It’s November and you could wake up one morning and find your knees or your hips are at you.
“You wonder how it is this happening? Maybe it’s the adrenaline of the championship, you push injuries to the back of your mind.
“You see so many guys going for operations during the off-season,” he added. “In our own squad, Cillian Buckley and Richie Doyle have gone for hip operations. They’re two young lads – this wasn’t something they picked up in November but something they’ve had throughout the championship.
“They went through the whole year with it and, when they had a bit of time, got it seen to. It shows that lads are ready to play through the pain, just to get the work done.”
Was he surprised to see guys of that age going for operations already?
“It is strange, but that’s the way the game has gone,” he said.
“Lads my age wouldn’t have started doing weights until we were 25 or 26. Hurlers of 18 and 19 are doing that now – there’s a lot more asked of younger players now when they come in to start off their inter-county careers, rather than 10 years ago.”
But does that mean there’s more pressure on the younger players?
“I don’t think they see it that way,” he offered.
“That’s life to them, it’s part of their routine to be going out and doing training and then, the next day, to be doing your recovery and gym session.”
He did agree with the idea that the ever-growing demands can shorten a player’s inter-county career. “That’s it,” he said. “It shows you that you never know what’s around the corner. Look at Michael Rice – he’s coming back from a serious hand injury, but that could have been the end of his career.
“Look at T.J. (Reid) with his broken kneecap and Henry (Shefflin), who has ankle trouble.
“You never know what’s going to happen –- you could be one little injury away from seeing your career end,” he said.
“You have to make the most of it, to try to win as much as you can when you’re playing.”
Playing in the face of such risks makes players appreciate winning titles all the more.
“Of course. When you can look back at the end of the year after winning something you’re delighted,” he said.
“Last year we won the Walsh Cup, the League, the inter-provincial series and the All-Ireland. You put an awful lot in, so it’s great to be able to look back and say you have an awful lot to show for it.”
Herity had to bide his time before getting into the team, but watching from the wings made him appreciate it all the more when he took over the Number One shirt from P.J. Ryan.
“It goes back to even before all that, when I wasn’t even on the panel,” he said. “I remember seeing the lads win in 2006 and 2007, then when I came in to the set-up in 2008 I remember thinking that if I ever get in would the hunger still be there?
“As Kilkenny have shown over the last few years, that hunger is there more than ever. A lot of that comes from the players, but more importantly, the management, who have helped keep things fresh.
“I remember looking at a picture at home of the 2008 panel,” he continued.
“Of that squad, something like 19 players are not there any more. That’s a lot, but there have been others who have come and gone since then too. It’s a fierce turnover. Lads keep going on about how it’s the same faces there the whole time, but that’s proof that it’s not the case. There’s an awful lot of new lads around the place.”
One of the faces that has gone is one of Herity’s own, Noel Hickey.
Was it a surprise Hickey went when he did?
“That’s Noel,” said Herity. “He was on the bench for a long time in 2012, but when he was called upon in the All-Ireland, at a time when we needed him – and again against Tipp when the boys got injured – Noel was the man that Brian went to.
“He’s that kind of hurler, a natural born leader,” he said of his colleague.
“I know we’re gutted that he’s gone from the county, but on the bright side, he’s back with the club. We’re trying to fight to get back up to senior level, so that’s a huge bonus for us.
“It’s a boost for the whole club too,” Herity added. “I was down watching the football last week, and Noel’s been playing. They’ve two wins out of two so far, so the club’s delighted.
“Lads look up to Noel an awful amount,” Herity added. “It’s great for him to be able to bring along these young lads, who can feed off the commitment he will bring to the club. Hopefully they’ll follow suit.”