From hurl­ing rags to riches

Kear­ney de­lighted with win

Bray People - - SPORT - with Bryan Kear­ney

LIFE is all about the ex­pe­ri­ence they say and it’s fair to say that Wick­low Un­der-17 Celtic Chal­lenge cap­tain Bryan Kear­ney has cer­tainly had an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in 2016.

The Rath­dan­gan man lined out early in the year on some dark days for Wick­low hurl­ing, in­clud­ing the an­ni­hi­la­tion by Down in Arklow in the Le­in­ster Mi­nor hurl­ing league and the sub­se­quent ham­mer­ing by Meath in the Le­in­ster Mi­nor hurl­ing cham­pi­onship, but on Satur­day af­ter­noon last in Nowlan Park in Kilkenny he led by ex­am­ple and steered his county to victory in a crack­ing game against West­meath in the in­au­gu­ral Celtic Chal­lenge Un­der-17 Di­vi­sion 4 fi­nal.

Bryan was also one of three signees of the let­ter sent to the Wick­low Peo­ple which high­lighted their frus­tra­tions at the un­fair­ness and lack of equal­ity be­tween the Mi­nor foot­ball and Mi­nor hurl­ing camps and the shock­ing lack of prepa­ra­tion go­ing into games ear­lier in the year.

The fall out from the pub­li­ca­tion was mas­sive, the re­ac­tion was huge on­line and it’s not an ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that Wick­low Mi­nor hurl­ing was prob­a­bly at, or close to, an all time low.

But, ap­par­ently, some­body lis­tened. New im­pe­tus was given to the Celtic Chal­lenge com­pe­ti­tion. Kilkenny leg­end Michael Ka­vanagh was drafted in by the County Board to coach the team. Man­ager Sean Hayes, along with Michael Mo­ran, Sheila Driver, and Nigel Byrne, per­se­vered and stuck by the team. And things started to hap­pen.

Un­like pre­vi­ous months where the young Mi­nor squad had felt aban­doned by the pow­ers that be and ne­glected by the ma­jor­ity of hurl­ing peo­ple of the county, now they felt like some­thing was hap­pen­ing, some­one cared.

Team cap­tain Bryan Kear­ney said that lift­ing the cup in Nowlan Park on Satur­day was “some­thing dif­fer­ent” and a “mas­sive” achieve­ment for the Wick­low team.

“It’s hard to be­lieve how we got here,” said Kear­ney, “It’s a bit sur­real to be hon­est, from where we set out. It was hard to see any­thing pos­i­tive. There was a dim out­look from there (writ­ing the let­ter). Train­ing was very bad (back then) but as it went on it got bet­ter. Michael Ka­vanagh came in to do the coach­ing and that drew in more play­ers. This is mas­sive. We didn’t ex­pect any­thing from the start of the year,” he added.

Bryan says that the Kilkenny leg­end was a mas­sive fac­tor in the turn­around of the sea­son as he brought some­thing dif­fer­ent to the process.

“He was mas­sive. He was some­thing new, some­thing fresh. He had ex­pe­ri­ence and he knew what he was talk­ing out,” he said.

The young Wick­low cap­tain also had words of praise and grat­i­tude for man­ager Sean Hayes and the back­room team.

“Sean Hayes was great all through the year as well. He stuck with us and never gave up on us. It was great to see the County Chair­man Martin Cole­man in Nowlan Park on Satur­day as well,” he added.

The Celtic Chal­lenge com­pe­ti­tion is also some­thing that Bray feels very pos­i­tive about as it pro­vides hurl­ing to play­ers of his age when usu­ally there would be a blank on the fix­tures list due to the na­tional ex­ams.

“If it wasn’t there we’d have done no hurl­ing,” he said, “We’d be left with no hurl­ing when the Leav­ing would be go­ing on. It’ll give you more fit­ness go­ing through the year as well,” he added.

The “flurry of goals” is what Bryan Kear­ney de­scribes as the key to Wick­low’s victory over West­meath on Satur­day. One or two of the strikes might have been “lucky” the full-back ad­mits but they were all lovely to see from a Wick­low point of view.

“The game started off and I think they went three points up early on but we came back ev­ery time to score. It was tit for tat and at half­time we were only up by a point. Then we got a flurry of goals and that was the dif­fer­ence,” he said.

There was one sad note on this great day for Wick­low un­der­age hurl­ing as Bryan climbed the steps in Nowlan Park to col­lect sil­ver­ware for the Gar­den county and that was that Peter Keogh, a re­la­tion of Bryan, was not present to wit­ness the won­der­ful mo­ment.

The late Pres­i­dent of Wick­low GAA had trav­elled to many games with the Kear­ney fam­ily and had watched Bryan and many other mem­bers of the team play the game over the years and had even wit­nessed the Wick­low cap­tain col­lect a ‘Player of the Tour­na­ment’ as a young boy at an event in west Wick­low many years ago.

No doubt when one of Rath­dan­gan’s most promis­ing hurlers raised the Corn Michael Feery into the Kilkenny air to the cheers of his col­leagues and sup­port­ers, some­where, some­how, that great man was mak­ing note of it for fu­ture ref­er­ence.

Wick­low cap­tain Bryan Kear­ney (cen­tre) with the Celtic Chal­lenge Di­vi­sion 4 Cup.

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