Departures open up opportunities

St Patrick's (Ballyragget) GAA club presented their first Hall of Fame Award to club stalwart Marty Butler at a ceremony in the club pavilion. Making the presentation is John Ryan, secretary Bord na nOg. Looking on are Richie Costello (left), Treasurer and Lar McEvoy, Chairman Bord na nOg, St Patrick's. Photo: Michael Brophy
The Kilkenny hurling dressing room will be much different next year with three more players joining Tommy Walsh in retirement, writes Nickey Brennan.

The Kilkenny hurling dressing room will be much different next year with three more players joining Tommy Walsh in retirement, writes Nickey Brennan.

None of the retirements were a surprise and all three leave the inter-county stage to much applause and grateful appreciation from fans.

The retirements may not yet be over. For sure the Cats have lost wise heads. The trio were part of a close-knit group that has seen the county scale incredible heights.

The departures will open the door for a number of young men who have surely dreamed of some day wearing the Kilkenny jersey at senior level.

Irrespective of how many times one has played at under-age level, walking through the dressing room door to share a place with the likes of Henry Shefflin and J.J. Delaney is a feeling that has to be experienced to be appreciated.

That initial greeting from a star player and, especially, from the team manager, is an important start for any player. They will quickly realise, though, what is required to remain part of the panel in terms of effort, commitment and spirit.

The road will be long and demanding. Not everyone will complete the journey. But anyone called will get an opportunity to impress.

Over the past decade or more many players have been brought on to the Kilkenny panel, and departed having seen little game time. Players can sometimes be unlucky when a team is settled, as opportunities are limited.

That was certainly the case for much of the past decade. It cannot have been an easy time for any player sitting on the bench because once the team is performing well management have little reason, bar injury, to introduce subs.

All the departing players were either selected or close be being selected this year. Now the spotlight will fall on the back-up talent.

It is a frustrating experience being a substitute, realising that an opportunity to get game time is minimal. In addition, game time with one’s club is also limited due to inter-county training.

A player just coming on to the panel is happy to bide his time, but when one has been warming the bench for a few years, frustration can set in.

Now opportunity beckons for a number to move up the pecking order. Walsh Cup and National League opportunities will come in the Spring. That is the time players must demonstrate they are ready to take the next step.

Brian Hogan was a colossus at centre-back for Kilkenny. He was utterly dependable and delivered consistently outstanding performances. Captaining Kilkenny to win the 2011 All-Ireland final against Tipperary was surely the highlight of a great career.

Aidan Fogarty may not have started as many games as Hogan, but his influence was significant. His hurling style was a nightmare for defenders. On many occasions his introduction off the bench influenced the result in Kilkenny’s favour.

The 2006 All-Ireland final is probably, as least thus far, the most significant game and result in Brian Cody’s long and fruitful reign. In that final Aidan Fogarty gave a ‘man of the match’ display, delivering a performance that denied Cork a third title in-a-row.

Being substitute goalkeeper can be a lonesome role as one waits patiently to get game time. Kilkenny hurling history is littered with substitute goalkeepers who had to bide their time, often a long time, to get an opportunity.

David Herity is one such player. He also had to compete with the excellent Eoin Murphy for the jersey in the past two years.

David can look back on a fine career in which he gave many excellent performances. In fact, he gave some of those outstanding displays this year, helping Kilkenny to secure another All-Ireland.

Along with Tommy Walsh, the trio who retired last week will continue to play with their clubs. They will give the same commitment which has been the hallmark of their inter-county careers.

What all four players will miss most, I suspect, is the camaraderie within the Kilkenny dressing room and the trips to games, plus training in Carton House. The close bond among the players is a key ingredient in success.