SUNDAY’S All-Ireland success was down to one thing, Kieran Joyce reckoned - taking the chances when they came, writes Trevor Spillane.
“It’s great to get a second chance after the last day,” he said. “We were chomping at the bit to get started - the forwards performed brilliantly. We were delighted to get that win.”
Seizing the opportunity when it presents itself is something the Rower-Inistioge man knows all too well. Although a member of the panel since last year it was this August that Joyce secured a starting berth in the side, coming in for the quarter-final against Limerick and retaining the Number Seven shirt ever since.
“You learn to serve your apprenticeship for a few years, getting used to the intensity that even just training with this team brings,” he said. “The chance to step in doesn’t come around often, but when you get it you have to try and hold on to your jersey. It happened for Murph (Paul Murphy) last year and it happened for me this time. You have to hold on to that place though, as there are plenty of lads trying to bite at it.
“It’s great to have the whole panel like that,” he added. “The intensity in training is what makes days like this. It’s not just a 15-man game, it’s the effort put in by the whole panel.”
Joyce is speaking from experience, having been on both sides now. However, as hard as it was getting the shirt, it’s tougher still holding on to it.
“There is a difference,” he noted. “It certainly ups the intensity a bit more. In training you have to keep on pushing and trying your hardest. As Brian says success is all down to hard work. The forwards proved that today with the way they worked for scores while the backs gave their all. Walter Walsh came in and showed what he was made of. He’s been playing brilliantly for the under-21s all year and going well in training, which proves that the hard work pays off.”
Hard work was something that shone through on Sunday as, right from the off, Kilkenny tore into Galway with incredible focus.
“The start was crucial,” said Joyce. “We knew from the last time that you can’t afford to let Galway make a good start, so we had to settle into the game.”
The tactic worked, as Kilkenny were clearly a different force from their previous meetings with Galway in this year’s championship, but Joyce also considered another factor in their success.
“Maybe we were concentrating too much on Galway and not enough on our own game,” he said honestly. “This time we went out to hurl ourselves, to express ourselves the way we can. Perhaps our focus was too much on the opposition in the drawn game, but concentrating on ourselves helped us to get the win.
“I know it was an extra three weeks and no-one was expecting the draw, but at half-time on September 9 we would have taken that chance to get a second bite at the title,” he added. “We knew that we’d have to up the intensity big time.”
There were a few anxious moments though when Galway hit that two-goal salvo.
“There were a few nerves when the goals went in, but our forwards were going well and laid down a marker,” he said. “Once they are going well it makes things a whole lot easier on us. When they tackle the backs it makes for a 50/50 ball and gives us a better chance to win possession. They really showed up today and helped us to stay calm.
“We knew from the drawn game that Galway could open up a lead,” he added. “They were seven points in front the last day - but we believed we could make the chances to battle back.”
Kilkenny were also helped by the way their own backs seemed to stay in their own positions more this time around
“We didn’t travel around as much this time!” Joyce said smiling. “The last day was more about man-marking, where you had to follow your man the whole time. We lost our shape a bit when we did that, so we held our positions more this time.
“It helped our performance,” he continued. “You feel a lot more comfortable hurling as when you’re focused on marking a man too much you can get caught up in what he’s doing more than concentrating on your own game. Holding our positions worked more this time. Ok, we conceded a few goals, but it worked out in the end!”
That said, the hard work continued even after Galway were reduced to 14 men.
“They kept driving at us even after the red card,” he said. “They continued to take the ball and run at us.
“Playing against 14 men is dangerous - you’ve seen over the years how many teams raise their game when they lose a man,” he said. “Even with the spare man we had to keep winning the primary ball, which was central to the team’s success.”
Sunday’s win was also a proud day for Joyce’s club, the Rower-Inistioge, who he was quick to praise.
“It’s a proud feeling to be representing the club, who have been very good to me,” he said. “I was watching a club match on Saturday evening and you’d miss being involved. Then, when I was at home on Sunday morning having my breakfast I could hear the cars passing outside beeping their horns as people started travelling up to the game.
“I’ve had loads of support in texts as well, which does spur you on more,” he added. “It lets you know just what a special thing it is to be representing your club.”