The excitement of a new season isn’t lost on anyone involved in the Kilkenny senior hurling league-championship - just ask Paddy Deegan.
After a disappointing end to 2018 the O’Loughlin Gaels defender is raring to go again in 2019. And he’s not the only one from St John’s parish in the city to feel that way!
“We ended on a bad note last year, getting knocked out so early, so we’ve been chomping at the bit to get back into action,” Deegan said at the launch of the St Canice’s Credit Union league/championship. “The lads are back training hard and we’re looking forward to getting things started.”
O’Loughlin’s were one of the year’s early contenders, showing it in their league form, but they exited the championship in their first game, going down to Clara in the quarter-finals.
“We had a few below-par performances,” Deegan admitted. “We were massively disappointed by the way the year ended - we still are - but you have to park it and move on. This is a new year; it’s one to look forward to.”
Life in the Kilkenny club championship is tough, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s so competitive here,” he said. “You never know what way it will go. You have to put yourself in the best position to go on and win it.”
Juggling club and county roles is never easy, but Deegan finds it enjoyable to be able to combine the two.
“It’s great to have club and county commitments,” he said. “I get up to club training when I can. I like to be in around the lads, so you don’t feel like a stranger - it’s good to do so they don’t forget me!”
Deegan gave a little smile at the last line, but with a growing panel of talented young players competition will be keen in the city club this year.
“A lot of young lads have come through, especially from the under-19s who won the championship last year,” he said. “We have other guys who were close to winning the under-21 championship too, so there’s a real pool of talent coming through. You’re always looking over your shoulder to see what’s coming along.”
With younger players coming through the idea was mooted that putting a disappointing year behind the panel would be the springboard for 2019, but Deegan believes the heat of competition is what drives teams on.
“You can always say that, but you should be motivated enough to win every year,” he said. “Ballyhale will be itching to get going so everyone else will have to be the same. It’s all about getting that focus for the first game against Mullinavat, then building it again.”
While some counties use the league as a way to get things up and running, its influence on the championship gives it greater importance in Kilkenny. For a player like Deegan, it offers a welcome challenge.
“I love the way the league is structured in Kilkenny,” he said. “Every game is so important that you want to win - you have to win. It makes games very competitive, which is a great way to have things.”
And knowing what it takes to win such a tough competition - O’Loughlin’s won the last of their four senior county titles in 2016 - will stand to the club.
“We won in 2016, but that was after a gap of six years,” he said with an air of caution. “We’ve gone three years now without the senior title - we’re at a point now where we’ve said we can’t leave it another six years to win one. We want to put our best foot forward this year.”
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