From hurling rags to riches
Kearney delighted with win
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.