Former hurling great, DJ Carey took on the job as manager of the Kilkenny minor football team
Well, that was a productive exercise. Regardless of how many – if any – All-Ireland titles they win in the small-ball code this year, Kilkenny GAA have achieved something to be proud of in 2019. Fielding a minor football team again.
Granted, DJ Carey’s young charges lost all three games and yes, the second of the defeats was a trimming. Big deal. Both of these occurrences could have been predicted – who would have predicted anything other than three defeats, with at least one of them being heavy? – and to harp on the outcome rather than the process is to miss the point on a grand scale. This was all about the journey, not the destination.
The first of the three outings, against Louth, was the most fruitful, needless to say. The group had been building up to it for two years and they showed that all the get-togethers, all the instruction and all the training sessions had not been in vain.
Kilkenny were competitive. They knew the kind of game they were trying to enact. They were more poised on the ball than might reasonably have been expected. They did well at maintaining possession, recycling the ball and moving it up the field. These were all big pluses.
On the downside, they weren’t good at fielding and were in trouble under the dropping ball from the start. Louth had a couple of big lads down the middle who grabbed a succession of opposition kickouts until the penny dropped and the home team chose to vary their approach, by going short and by breaking the ball.
Inevitably they lacked a degree of awareness in front of goal. Kilkenny were as good as their opponents when it came to working the ball into the scoring zone. As to making optimum use of it when they got it there – that was a different story but, again, only to be expected.
Common sense, if nothing else, said that at least one of the three matches would not be pretty. Cue the Wicklow encounter, which started badly and went downhill from there.
Stung by their defeat to Kildare, Wicklow went for the jugular from the off and bagged a couple of early goals. Kilkenny heads drooped and DJ’s lads panicked, going for the long ball instead of playing the possession football they’d been coached. Call it a case of inexperience.
Happily Humpty Dumpty was put back together again for the visit of Kildare. Kilkenny regrouped, were much tighter and more confident in themselves and performed admirably. Two decent performances out of three ain’t bad.
Kilkenny’s return to provincial football demonstrates that these things can be done and that when it comes to gaelic games the county cannot, or at any rate must not, cherrypick. To plead, as County Board folk will do, that football receives far better treatment in Kilkenny than hurling does in half of the counties in Ireland is not untrue but it misses the point.
Smaller counties field hurling and football teams; Kilkenny have no excuse not to do likewise. Not competing at under-age level in football not only brought Kilkenny GAA into disrepute, it brought Kilkenny hurling into disrepute.
Yet the adventures of DJ’s minor footballers were not merely a matter of optics. The buy-in from the players was exceptional. They were delighted to be involved and to wear the striped jersey.
All in all it was a heartening story. But it must become more than that. The beginning of something, a good starting point for a journey, as opposed to a destination in itself or a one-off. Because if the latter, what was the point of all the hard work in the first place?
For more on Kilkenny People sport read here.