Kieran Joyce (right) in action with Kilkenny
A summer of work and sport ion America helped Kilkenny star, Kieran Joyce, recover his drive and focus to try a second time to make it on the senior inter-county scene.
He was first called into the Kilkenny squad in late 2009. He was still there “making up numbers” in the group the following season, as he put it himself, when he picked up a bad hamstring injury that scuppered his chances.
He was sidelined for a couple of months and dropped down the rankings. However, when he went to Boston to work and play hurling in the summer of 2010 things worked out so well that he was ready to give the county scene another shot when he returned.
And then when he felt the pain of Kilkenny being beaten in the All-Ireland final by Tipperary that year, when the five in-a-row dream died, he reckoned there was definite opportunity there.
The original invitation to join the Kilkenny set-up came from then selector, Martin Fogarty. The Rower-Inistioge defender was delighted and he jumped at the chance.
The hamstring injury that followed didn’t just stall his progress, it left him virtually a forgotten man.
So in the summer of 2010 he headed to Boston with fellow Kilkenny hopeful, Colin Fennelly, to play with the Tipperary team. They were part of a crack squad that included Seamus Hickey (Limerick) and Shane Burke (Tipperary) and they won the Boston championship.
Kieran actually bought his ticket for the 2010 All-Ireland in Boston and was at the match with a group of Tipp lads.
Make or Break
“It was make or break time,” the 30-year-old revealed when we spoke this week about his retirement, career and more. “I knew coming home I needed to get things going the following year if it was ever going to happen for me.
“I knew the hamstring injury had hurt my chances before. Going to the US helped me clear my head. The matches over there were 13-a-side and that helped me in terms of mobility and so on.
“The American experience helped make me into a senior hurler. It got my mind together and taught me not to take anything for granted. Boston, and seeing how hard people worked for the game there, gave me a whole new appreciation of the game, of the work people put into it.
“Coming back and seeing the county being beaten in the final got me think maybe I could make it,” he revealed.
In 2011 he rejoined the squad, and made the match day squad for the All-Ireland win. In 2012 he made his championship debut against Dublin in O’Moore Park. He went on to be a part of six All-Ireland finals, including draws against Galway (2012) and Tipperary (2014), as he won four senior All-Irelands.
He was always fiercely competitive, a torment to some colleagues when he was young because of an intolerance of silly errors, but he appreciated good fortune helped him along the way after the slow start. The year 2011 was his final one studying economics and finance in UL.
He was picked to be captain of the UL Fitzgibbon Cup team, with the likes of Brendan Bugler (Clare), Seamus Hickey (Limerick), Michael Walsh and P.J. Delaney (Kilkenny), Patrick Cronin (Cork), David Burke (Galway), Shane Dooley and Brian Carroll (Offaly) and Paddy Stapleton (Tipperary) as colleagues.
Every individual on the team had played at inter-county level at some stage. In the final UL beat LIT, who were managed by Davy Fitzgerald, after being down by nine points at one stage.
Ready To Go
“That was massive for me,” Kieran admitted. “After that I got a call from Brian (Cody) to meet him. The confidence of the Fitzgibbon win, being captained, and the American experience left me ready to go again.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Two National League wins, plus winners medals at intermediate and under-21 level - both won in 2008 - make up part of an impressive array of honours harvested.
He recalled his first training session. He looked in wonder as Henry Shefflin scored an outrageous point.
“I remember thinking, oh wow,” he laughed. “I was in awe. For a while you are looking around and taking it all in, but you learn fast. I knew this was my second time and possibly my last chance.
“Paul Murphy went in the year before. He made it at corner-back. I had played at under-21 level with Paul. I felt if Paul could do it, so could I, was the way I was thinking.”
He classed making the squad for the All-Ireland final as real progress. The following year the aim was to nail down a spot on the team during thee League.
Then centre-back, Brian Hogan broke his hand. Brian Cody spelled it out to Kieran and Paddy Hogan (Danesfort). The battle for the jersey was between them. The Rower man nicked the shirt.
The battle to make it in Kilkenny can crush a player, but tradition helps when you climb the mountain. People here, Kieran reckoned, understood there was a need to give players space at times, socially and at other times.
All-Ireland time, and the rush was tickets, was always trying but Brian Cody always urged the players to have the issue sorted. Kieran, with the help of his mother, got away from that one.
At the national school in the Rower he never wanted for encouragement, with Benny Holohan, who is originally from Wexford, being very involved as was “Master Higgins” - Sean Higgins, who is originally from Cork.
At the age of 12 he experienced a serious growth spurt. He was nearly six foot tall when he was about 13. He was considered ideal to be a full-back.
Between the school and the club there was a nice blend of players around and success was enjoyed at under-14 and 16 level in Roinn C and B.
County selectors took note, and he figured on Tony Forristal and Nenagh Co-Op teams before playing at minor and under-21 level with Kilkenny.
Kieran attended Good Counsel (New Ross) where the drive was always strong to do well at hurling and football. Invariably the school fell short. St Kieran’s College or Kilkenny CBS always appeared to have the measure of them.
“I see myself as having been very lucky to win All-Irelands,” Kieran admitted.
“I worked with Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh from Waterford and he has been playing at inter-county level for 16 years. He has tasted defeat in two All-Irelands. That’s tough.
“You see lads like that who keep coming back. You like to think if you were in that position that you would keep coming back and back, but you don’t know.
“I always wanted to play hurling with Kilkenny. I got to do it and I enjoyed it, even if it took me two attempts to there,” he concluded.
The Joyce file
Birth date: April 4, 1987.
Occupation: Business banking with AIB
Joined Kilkenny panel: 2011
Championship debut: 2012 v Dublin in O’Moore Park.
Honours - 4 All-Ireland SHC (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015); 3 Leinster SHC (2011, 14, 15); 1 SHL (2012); 2 NHL (2013, 2014); 1 All-Ireland IHC (2008); 3 Leinster IHC (2006, 2008,2011); 2 All-Ireland under-21 HC (2006, 2008); 2 Leinster under-21 HC (2006, 2008); 1 Leinster MHC (2004); 1 Fitzgibbon Cup (2011 UL); 1 All-Ireland club intermediate HC 2014.