CHAMPIONSHIP Eager Kilkenny enjoying best years of his life
AS one of the country’s top underage dual stars Ciaran Kilkenny was always destined for success.
Nonetheless, the Castleknock man has never taken it for granted and maintains all the enthusiasm of someone starting out as he prepares for Dublin’s big showdown with Mayo this coming Sunday.
‘It only seems like yesterday I was starting my first game for Dublin against Mayo in the All-ireland semi-final and they beat us,’ he recalled.
‘That was five years ago - I was only 19 at the time.
‘In my first full year in 2013 I was lucky enough to be involved in an All-ireland-winning team and the year after that I did in my cruciate.
‘I’m in my mid 20s, so you just have to enjoy it and enjoy the lads in your company. You only get a limited amount of time to play for Dublin and it’s the best years of your life.
‘So you just have to appreciate it as much as you can and be thankful for the people that have got you there in the first place, the people you grew up with, your mentors, your parents.
‘Sunday will see Kilkenny compete in his fourth final, and while all the talk is about the three-in-a-row, Kilkenny believes the slate has been wiped clean this year.
‘The way I look at it, a new group comes in at the start of every year. 2017 has been a new journey for us, we have different players involved, there’s been a different management set-up. It’s a new journey and a new experience for me, so this is another All-ireland final. That’s the way I look at it.’
And asked if success dulled his competitiveness, the answer was an emphatic no.
‘I love that feeling of going out there and giving it your all and playing play by play. You’re just so in that bubble. It’s the heat of battle, it’s Croke Park, the adrenalin is going, the energy is going.’
Sunday’s game is the latest instalment between these two sides, with Dublin needing a second game to overcome Mayo in an epic replay in 2016 when Cormac Costello and Bernard Brogan came off the bench to seal the westerners’ fate.
And Kilkenny believes Dublin’s strength on the bench has a huge impact for the team as a whole.
‘The beauty about this squad is that you can go out and work as hard and it’s great to know that when you’re absolutely spent you know that someone is going to come on and do equally or an even better job than you for the team and that’s such a reassuring thing.
‘That you can give it your all for 40 or 50 minutes or whatever it is - and that someone else will do that same job. We have 35 players who can do that.’
This season has seen a changing of the guard in many respects, with established players like Paul Flynn, Kevin Mcmanamon, Eoghan O’gara and the aforementioned Brogan all watching from the bench during Dublin’s demolition of Tyrone last month.
But Kilkenny believes that it’s a case of all for one and one for all as Dublin chase a third consecutive All-ireland this coming Sunday.
‘There’s such a unity in the team - that lads are there, they are competing for places, they are playing so hard, they are competing so hard. But that man will be the first man if a lad gets ahead of him in the starting fifteen to shake his hand and shake it firmly and say best of luck in the game.
‘And they will mean it genuinely and sincerely and that’s the buzz that we have.’