KILKENNY may be appearing in what is a remarkable 10th All-Ireland senior hurling final since the turn of the Millennium, but they are taking nothing for granted and the strong grassroots network that has produced an abundance of talent in the past will be well maintained, writes John Knox.
The work by volunteers in clubs; by teachers in schools at all levels and the army of people who help keep the show on the road by raising and contributing funds to help develop Gaelic games must always be made feel part of thriving body that is Kilkenny GAA, County Board chairman, Paul Kinsella has insisted.
“We are living through remarkable times,” the chairman admitted when he looked towards what will be a sixth successive appearance in the final by the Cats. “A generation is growing up not having much experience of the county being beaten. Last year was the first time some young followers saw the county beaten in a senior final.
“I think it is only when these great times pass, which they inevitably will, that we will appreciate what has been happening. When I am driving through other counties I often think how lucky we are. We should savour it all.”
The chairman reminded that 12 months ago Kilkenny was the subject of an important study to try and find out why one group of people would be more successful than another. A group for Norwich University visited here doing a study entitled ‘Beyond Expectations’ where they identified places in the world that were performing beyond expectations. They identified Kilkenny.
Also featured were the hugely successful Arsenal ladies soccer team, some cricket team in Australia and some High School team in the US.
The basis of the study was to try and find out why some places and people performed way above what the popular - under 90,000 here - would suggest they should be doing.
“The group came very well briefed, in fairness,” the St Martin’s (Muckalee) clubman said. “The biggest shock they got here was when they discovered that the girls were equally as proficient as the fellows. They knew nothing about that end of it. That really intrigued them.
“On much the same note, Ronan Curran (the Cork hurler) often said to me that we will “never be beaten”. He saw Kilkenny as the only place in Ireland that it was fashionable for teenagers, male and female, to walk the streets with a hurley in their hand. It is almost a fashion accessory.”
On top of that Kilkenny, City and county, has status. This was highlighted a number of years ago when County Board officials were talking with promoter Peter Aiken about having a concert at Nowlan Park. There were rumours that other places were looking for a concert too.
“Peter turned around to Ned and myself in Nowlan Park and said “lads, you have a brand name”. That never dawned on us. A business man used a term and suddenly we recognised what it was all about,” the chairman admitted.
“We have been lucky,” the chairman continued, “and not just because we were in all these finals. The players involved have so little ego about the whole thing. They are basically club players involved with the county, and they don’t carry it any further.
“People form outside of Kilkenny can’t believe that they can come down and the players will sign jerseys, hurleys or whatever for them without any hassle. The players are great ambassadors.”
He insisted that in his time as chairman he never received a ’phone call of complaint about a players.
Ah, but how do you protect that strong position?
Part of the slippage could be that a few superior players only come along every so often, he suggested. Sometimes no matter what was done it was difficult to avoid some bit of complacency.
“You need a wake up call every now and again,” he offered. “We have to start every year expecting to win and to do everything we can to win. I often wonder would I be as committed a GAA person if I were living in Longford, Leitrim or wherever. I simply don’t know.
“We need to ask ourselves hard questions and also show respect for those operating at that level. We should never be high and mighty.
“These people are important. They know we respect them. Success is transient. You always have to give yourself a reality check.”
The GAA these times is more than sporit, it is a business. The turnover of the County Borad is close to 2-million Euro, with ticket money taken into account. The ’Board has to budget for 1-million Euro a year, minimum.
Training teams costs half a million; repayments on the new stand in Nowlan Park is 10,000 Euro a month. That amounts to 620,000 Euro.
“Then we try to help second level schools and we try to give development grants where we can,” the chairman explained. “We know how valuable their work is to us. There is no point giving people a pat on the back, telling them they are great and keep it up. There is a cost to showing appreciation if you like.
“Most people don’t want much, but they like recognition. That is true of any of us. It is nice for someone to say now and again that you did a good job.”
Kilkenny, he said, got a wake up call this year. They were beaten at minor and under-21 level in Leinster, in the latter case for the second successive year.
“It has been a long time since that has happened,” the chairman said. “That is a wake up call. You can’t be blinded by the fact you are in a senior final. That is the here and now. The others are the future.”