Thee St Kieran's College team selectors (from left) Tom Hogan, Philip Walsh, Michael Walsh
St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny are the kings of All-Ireland colleges hurling.
They are the current Croke Cup holders and they will play in their 35th senior hurling final on Saturday when they face beaten finalists of last season, Presentation College, Athenry in Tullamore (3pm)
What is the mood in the school as they chase their 23rd win? What is it like working with the future of Kilkenny club and county hurling?
John Knox chats with the three teams selectors, Tom Hogan, Michael Walsh and Philip Walsh.
Key - Tom Hogan (TH); Michael Walsh (MW); Philip Walsh (PW).
St Kieran’s weren’t brilliant against CBC, Cork in the semi-final, so how did the players react afterwards to that effort?
TH - “We were delighted to win and get back into the final. The great thing about a performance like that is that the players know they still have a lot of work to do.
“When you know you to have improve for the next day it is a good thing.
“It was the ideal semi-final really, in that you get a tough test but you just get over the line. The boys are well aware of how close it was.”
So in that situation, what do you do with the players to try and get more from them the next day?
MW - “Any lad who felt he didn’t play as well as he can or would have liked it would be a matter of helping get him back in the groove; help them get their touch in, getting their head up again and forgetting about what didn’t go well. It is mainly about trying to sharpen up lads and helping them get the confidence right.
“Young lads can put disappointment behind them quick. Getting back in action, in the next game, the next training sessions helps refocus the minds.”
You guys have plenty of experience in working with young players, so did you see them take off at training?
PW - “The players love hurling, and there are a few fellows who are still pushing hard for places on the team. There is a nice bit of excitement there.
Looking for chance
“They are all driving on. They are looking for their chance.
“It is an All-Ireland final. They want to be on the pitch if they can. No one can relax be casual about anything. There is competition there. We are satisfied that we have strength in depth and competition within helps drive things on.”
This is St Kieran’s College, and when I walked in the gate, virtually every young lad I saw had a hurley in his hand. What is it like trying to guide and make the very best of such love of the game?
TH - “Our hardest job is to minimise the panel. There are lads who are disappointed every year.
“We would have over 100 lads trying to get on the senior panel. Every fellow from Transition Year up thinks he is good enough to make it. That is the way you want it. That is the hardest part, to cut down the numbers.
“When the panel is picked, then you have to try and keep everyone happy. Trying to keep the balance, to keep everyone keen and feeling involved, is the thing.
“You have to keep competition in the squad, because that can determine how good you can become and if you can reach your full potential.
“It is not easy. Telling a lad in sixth year, his last year in the school, that he didn’t make the panel is not easy. We have had to do that. There is one player on the panel who wasn’t on the panel last year, in fifth year. He would have been over age only for the fact the age changed from under-18 and a half to 19. This is his first year on the panel.”
What is it with young lads, do they all improve at a certain rate, or can there be a quantum jump with some?
MW - “The difference between players can be massive. A lad in First Year could be a foot taller than everyone else.
“Size makes a massive difference at that age. Three years later he might be the same size, but other lads might have caught up on him in size. A lot of the time you will find the lad who was smaller, who had to learn how to hurl and hold his own patch the hard way, will develop better.
“Young lads can change so much. Sometimes when lads come back after the summer break you wouldn’t recognise them they have changed so much.
“Their hurling would have come on. Physically they would have grown. You couldn’t pick next year’s panel until literally September arrives because lads can change that much.
“You have to remember, they are young and they are growing. Confidence at that age can make a massive difference too.
“A player who has a good summer of hurling behind him with his club will come back to us a better player. We start off training in October or November, which suits some down to the ground.
Might be needed
“An All-Ireland final then in March or April in different weather conditions might suit others better. We try and keep that in mind when picking a panel with the view that somewhere down the line a lad not doing so well in November might be needed come February or March.
“ The change in lads can be amazing between May to September.”
St Kieran’s didn’t win the Leinster League. You were beaten by Kilkenny CBS in the final. You didn’t train for it, so does that mean the championship is everything?
PW - “It is not that we don’t train. We didn’t get a chance to train with the under-17, 19 and 21 competitions in Kilkenny. We couldn’t get lads together.
“We wanted to win the League. It sticks a bit that we didn’t win the League.
“We found it very hard to get work done, to get a panel together, especially this year. We really started to train on St Stephen’s Day. There is never a word from players about that.
“The players are mad for it. We training here on St Stephen’s morning, and sometimes we train here on New Year’s eve as well.
“We would have several challenge matches in that time as well. Other schools do the same. We have played other schools over the Christmas holidays. We are not doing anything different here. The other schools are as committed as we are.
“The lads are mad for training. They want to play for the school. They are proud to be representing St Kieran’s College.”
Do you work the players hard?
PW - “That depends. The lads are at different levels of development. They know what they need to do. A lot of them are with Development Squads and they know what they have to do.
“We do a lot of stamina work early in the year. Last year, especially, it served us well. We went to extra-time in a few matches and that stamina helped.
The final is against the Presentation College, Athenry in a repeat of last year’s decider. Does that make a difference, make things any more difficult?
TH - Look, we have five from last year’s starting team and it is said Athenry have nine. The teams are different this time.
“I don’t think what happened last year will have any bearing on this match.
“These chaps are out to make to own bit of history. For most of them this is their last year in the school and it is their last chance to win an All-Ireland at this level.”
St Kieran’s have the knack of winning games and finals that can sometimes seem lost. How is that, is there a secret?
MW - “There can be a confidence from seeing it being done by others in the school. If you see it being done, you can get to thinking that if John who is in my club did it last year then there is no reason why I can’t do it.
“I suppose the fact that you are getting to finals, be it at juvenile or junior level, it can create a belief in lads that leads to an attitude ‘yes, I can do it’.
“Seeing it being done here before is a help, but it is likely most lads have done it at under-14 or 16 or at county level, so they know to keep chasing.”
How big a kick is it to see former St Kieran’s College pupils driving on and achieving big with their club or county later on?
PW - “Ah sure, it makes you proud that you had a chance to work with them. You like to see them develop.
“There is real enjoyment working with young lads at this level. Some of them will move on and play at inter-county level. More of them won’t.
“The kick of trying to develop them and make some little difference with them, as men and hurlers, is huge.”
For more on Kilkenny People sport read here.