On Saturday, June 27, the Kilkenny footballers made history by becoming the British provincial junior football champions, beating Scotland by 2-7 to 0-8 in Edinburgh.
In a county used to success through the ever conquering hurlers, the footballers now have a chance to create even more history when they meet highly fancied Mayo in the All-Ireland junior football semi-final in Tullamore on Saturday.
Five-times senior All-Ireland winning goalkeeper, David Herity, is in the unique position of having been involved in big days with the hurlers and he is now enjoying the less high profile build up with the footballers.
“It’s a nice change. You’re able to play with no pressure,” Herity said of managing with his hurling/football involvement when he sat down to chat with the ’People.
“If it was the hurling semi-final we were building up to I can assure you I wouldn’t be the one put forward for media duties,” the Dunnamaggin man grinned.
Herity made his final appearance for the Kilkenny hurlers in last year’s All Ireland semi-final win against Limerick. When he decided the time was right to retire, he was determined to do his bit for football.
“After speaking to a few of the other lads who play football, you could see an opportunity there to go on and win something, create a bit of history, and thankfully we’ve done that,” he said proudly. “People are actually talking about football now.
“Last week I went down to the club and lads were congratulating me, the same lads who wouldn’t say a word to me when I had success with the hurlers,” Herity revealed.
Most people would find the transition from the elite level, near professionalism of Kilkenny hurling to the more laissez-faire approach of Kilkenny football difficult, but for Herity it was a welcome move.
“I’ve been playing in goal most of my life, and it’s a constant pressure situation. I also built up a level of fitness that I wanted to use, and that’s why I always liked football. It’s a chance to run around and enjoy it,” David explained.
One of the main difficulties faced by the Kilkenny footballers since ‘going British’ is the logistical difficulty of getting an entire panel and management team to somewhere in the England with somewhere to stay on a weeks’ notice.
“It’s absolute carnage,” Herity smiled. “On the day of the final in Edinburgh I got the seven o’clock flight with three other lads. Two more groups followed at eight and ten, and one lad travelled over by himself at one. On the way home there were five different flights.
“It goes to show the amount of work involved in participating in that championship. The work Tom Reilly (secretary, Football County Board) does on a week’s notice is phenomenal,” Herity added.
With numerous trips to England for the footballers throughout the season, rumours have been doing the rounds for years that some of the panel join up for the ‘social’ aspect. Herity was happy to clarify the matter.
“First and foremost we are over there to win, and when we won we celebrated like any other inter-county team,” he opened. “We’re ambitious. The aim has to be All-Ireland junior success. Winning the British championship should set the benchmark for the future.”
Football in Kilkenny has its detractors, but it is refreshing to see such a high profile figure in Kilkenny GAA circles speak so passionately about the game. Herity believes the county can continue to improve if more players made themselves available for selection.
“I asked a few guys to play this year and a few of them showed an interest, but when it comes down to it they’re just not bothered,” he revealed. “There are a lot of good footballers out there in Kilkenny and I don’t know if they’re not confident enough in themselves to represent Kilkenny for fear of getting flak or sneered, or they think it’s beneath them.”
Along with the success the footballers have achieved so far this year, the Dunnamaggin man was also afforded the opportunity to fulfil another lifelong ambition through his involvement with the big ball recently.
“One thing I always wanted was an outfield Kilkenny jersey, and after the final the chairman came into the dressing room and said we could keep our jerseys. I had number ten. I was delighted,” Herity remarked enthusiastically.
Away from the playing field David Herity has been making a bit of a name for himself on national radio as part of Marty Morrissey’s new GAA show The Marty Squad. He even managed to steer the conversation towards Kilkenny’s exploits in the British football championship during show time!
“Ah yeah, I brought it up a few times, and if we beat Mayo, they won’t be able to shut me up,” he laughed.
Herity is cautiously optimistic about Kilkenny football, but admits a major mindset change is needed to bring about change.
“There is a lot of hope, but we’ve no under-21 or minor teams per say, so it brings you back down to earth when you think about how much work needs to be done,” he suggested.
“The players are there, but they don’t put themselves forward. A whole change in needed in attitude and mind set from every corner of the county.”
With an All-Ireland semi-final on the horizon and the British inter-county title in the bag, Kilkenny football is beginning to creep into the public consciousness for the right reasons.
“We needed some level of success. Now that’s finally happened,” David insisted. “The fact that the cup is called Sam Maguire makes it even better. We now have Liam and Sam in Kilkenny.
“The hurlers are making history. We’re making history and we’re both in All-Ireland semi- finals. There are similarities despite being worlds apart.”
Kilkenny will go into the Mayo game as underdogs. They have nothing to lose. Herity hopes this year’s run can be the catalyst for a change of attitude towards the game.
“I’d love if a day came along when football and Kilkenny were mentioned in the same sentence and there wasn’t any laughter.”
That day may have already come!