WITH AN ELOQUENT 507-word statement, Dublin’s brightest current young GAA talent has returned.
Ciaran Kilkenny left for Australia on November 15th last to pursue an AFL career with the Melbourne-based club Hawthorn.
Eight weeks later the Castleknock player has declared that Australian Rules is not the game for him and Australia is not the country for him.
The short sojourn Down Under may strike many observers as a surprise.
Kilkenny’s career had shown traits of prowess and adaptability to suggest he could thrive in a new code.
Yet in a remarkably articulate fashion Kilkenny has demonstrated that returning home to line out for club and county is what he wants most.
There’s nothing sinister about the U-turn that the 19 year-old has performed. Kilkenny has previously come across as a youngster who embodies some of the core values of the GAA.
Before last May’s All-Ireland U21 football final against Roscommon, he spoke at a media event about his passions for the Irish language and studying Irish history.
At that juncture interest from the AFL was still speculative, so when the question of career plans was raised for the then Leaving Cert student, he stated that his preference would be to teach in a Gaelscoil primary school or to teach Irish and history at secondary level.
Being in demand by so many GAA teams, encompassing hurling and football, was something he viewed as a privilege rather than a chore.
Kilkenny has a rich GAA family heritage. His father John played at all levels for Dublin and his cousin Gearóid Ryan is a prominent member of the Tipperary senior hurling setup.
He has two cousins, Niamh and Orla, who line out for the Galway camogie team and he is also related to former Galway football great Sean Purcell.
His upbringing pointed towards a GAA career and his excellence naturally alerted another sport to consider tapping into his talents. It may not have been a lengthy stint in the AFL but Kilkenny’s statement indicates that he is glad to have tried it out and glad to have arrived at the conclusion that he is happiest at home.
The return may be particularly satisfying for the player but it is also good news for plenty others. Firstly there is his club Castleknock, only in existence in 14 years, who are currently preparing for a momentous date in their history when they feature in the All-Ireland club JFC semi-final at the end of January.
Having a prized asset like Kilkenny, who departed shortly before their Leinster final last November, on board is of immense benefit to Castleknock’s chances of success. Their opponents, Kerry’s Kenmare Shamrocks, must be wishing he could have deferred his return for another few weeks.
Then there is the matter of Dublin. Kilkenny starred as a dual player as a minor, but being drafted in by Pat Gilroy last summer would suggest that he will be involved with the county’s senior football setup in 2013 rather than their hurling equivalent.
New boss Jim Gavin witnessed at first hand the ability of Kilkenny to shine during last year’s All-Ireland U21 winning run. Now he gets to work at close quarters with him at senior level. Gavin’s pragmatic nature is likely to prompt him to ease Kilkenny back into action.
Leaving him for the next few months with Castleknock and the Dublin U21′s, guided by Kilkenny’s former minor supremo Dessie Farrell, could be a sensible course of action over the next few months. Burdening him with huge expectations is neither fair or realistic.
Dublin boss Jim Gavin will get to work with Ciarán Kilkenny again. INPHO/James Crombie.
On a wider scale the return of Kilkenny is further evidence of a growing trend in the GAA. A few years back there were fears that the all best young talents in the country were set to be lured to Australia by the enticement of a professional sports career in sunnier climes.
Yet the amount of players who have returned to the GAA illustrates the challenges that are presented by switching to the AFL.
It is not a straightforward task to settle into a new country and a new sport. Kilkenny joins other notable returnees like Colm Begley, Michael Quinn and Michael Shields in that regard.
Dublin supporters will react in cheerful unison to the development. The aftermath of last year’s All-Ireland semi-final was dominated by Mayo’s success story and Dublin’s exit yet it was overlooked just how stunning an impact Kilkenny, who had freshly emerged from the minor ranks in 2012, had made in his starting senior debut.
He was drafted in as a late pre-match replacement for Alan Brogan and he was Dublin’s leading scorer from play with three points.
The game showcased a player whose GAA career was rich in potential. Those hopes seemed to be dashed last November when he flew to Melbourne. But now he’s back and can try to shine once more.