Kildare hurling hoping to deliver on its potential
By John Harrington
The potential in Kildare hurling is obvious.
It’s a populous county and they already have eight senior hurling clubs so right there you already have a solid foundation on which to build.
The Kildare County Board have shown the right kind of ambition by putting in place a hurling action plan which bodes well for the future as does the conveyor belt of talent that’s already whirring merrily.
Last year the Kildare minor hurlers defeated Offaly to reach the Leinster semi-final for the first time where they gave Kilkenny a decent run for their money.
Christy Ring Cup champions in 2018, the fact that they’re back in another Final on Saturday against Down is another positive sign.
Team captain, Brian Byrne, agrees there’s reasons to hope a bright future beckons for hurling in the county, though he had identified one major problem area in their supply chain of young hurlers they need to address to ensure the county fulfils its potential.
“There definitely is (huge potential),” says Byrne. "Especially over the past couple of years there's a huge amount of work put into the underage side of things and that's probably where everything builds up.
“You've got your development squads, your U-16s, your minors. Probably an area where we've slipped in years compared to maybe some of the other counties is the likes of Carlow and Westmeath who are in the McDonagh has probably been in the area of U-21 or U-20 as it's known now.
“It's probably something that's broken down in Kildare. It's probably been the reason why while we have a good minor set-up a breakdown happens at U-20s and then it's nearly another initiation when you get to senior level. That's something that the GDAs and GPOs have been focusing on, trying to implement a proper structure there.
“Even something similar to the minors, to make U-20 level more of a rigid structure that when they go from minor to U-20s they can easily transition into the senior level. That's something that we've noticed would make a huge difference for the likes of our teams getting up to those higher levels.”
What will further accelerate the development of young hurlers in the county is a successful senior team they can aspire to want to hurl for.
It certainly looks like the Lilywhites are moving in the right direction there too because they have a very talented young team with an ambitious manager in former Kilkenny goalkeeper David Herity.
“He's brought a huge amount,” says Byrne of Herity. “It's not every day you get a manager who has five All-Irelands in his back pocket. There's a huge amount of experience. He came in off the back of us winning the Christy Ring and some guys might have thought, 'That's good now. We've won our Christy Ring. We should be fine'.
“Something that he brought was that we can always get better. There are always improvements there. His intensity and passion for the game is second to none. It's probably something that I've never seen before and was a huge addition to Kildare hurling.”
So what’s the next step for this Kildare team? How they go from a side with undoubted promise into one that can makes decisive steps up the hurling ladder?
“There's an element of all of it: mental, physical,” says Byrne.
“In terms of how we get across the line, it's about consistency and it's something David Herity has tried to implement, that we're not playing fantastic one day and pitching back down to another low the next day.
“If can get up to a good level and stick at it, that's how teams get that winning mentality.
“David has never let us settle at what we've got good at. He's always looking for more and more the whole time. I've never been in the Kilkenny camp but I can only assume that's the way it goes there.
“You can see from the ruthlessness of how they pick teams, you have to be at your best the entire time or you'll be on the sideline.
“One big thing he has done and it's in conjunction with Kildare themselves is that he's promoted the club scene a lot more. He's really pushed on clubs to get involved.
“He's gone and done sessions himself with them, just to get a feel for how he does things or if he can help them in any way.
“If we're starting from the group up from clubs, that's going to be a benefit to Kildare itself.”
Winning Saturday’s Christy Ring Cup Final would be an important step in the right direction, but that won’t be a simple job.
Up against them are a Down team that have their own ambitions and proved their worth when defeating a hotly fancied Offaly in the semi-final.
They also defeated Kildare earlier this year when the teams met in the League, so Byrne is well aware of the threat they will pose.
“It’s two very evenly matched teams,” says Byrne. “They beat us by a point that day, the pitch was a lot tighter, a lot smaller, it was a real game of two halves because there was a strong breeze.
“It’s always been nip and tuck between us, I think the biggest thing for us is that we’ll just focus on ourselves, if we can get as much of our preparation right and correct then it’ll be a good game. It’s going to be a close game, there’s no doubt about it.”