Poc Fada King Kiely doesn't rule out Offaly return in 2022
By John Harrington
Cillian Kiely hasn’t ruled out a return to inter-county action with the Offaly hurlers in 2022.
The 25-year-old opted out this year for personal reasons, but is feeling refreshed after a year of focusing purely on club hurling with Kilcormac-Killoughey.
In his absence, Offaly went unbeaten in the League and Championship to win promotion to Division 1 of the League and the Joe McDonagh Cup, but a defender of Kiely’s quality would still be a valuable addition to Michael Fennelly’s panel.
“I opted out this year,” explained Kiely. “I just needed a bit of a break. I'm six years with Offaly and I have work commitments as well, and hoping to start building a house, there were a few things going on, we had our first child 17 months ago now so time was getting tight.
“You're looking at four or five nights a week when you're leaving the house and it's not easy. Inter-county hurling is a big commitment. The year out has done me no harm really. I'm hurling well enough with the club so I'm happy.
“There's a decision to make obviously next year, maybe, if they ask me, you'd never know. The year out did me no harm. You'd see a lot of people taking a year out, you see some of the Dublin footballers even stepping out.
“So it is a big commitment. Look, when you're there there's nothing better but when you step away you see another side of life as well. So it's no harm.”
Kiely’s younger brother Cathal could also be in the frame for a call-up to Michael Fennelly’s senior panel in 2022.
He had an injury-plagued year in 2021, but eventually recovered sufficiently to play a subs role with the County U-20s this year and is another very highly rated talent.
In the short-term, though, both Kielys are fully focused on competing in the 2021 M. Donnelly GAA All-Ireland Poc Fada Final on Annaverna Mountain in the Cooleys on Saturday, September 25.
“We’ve club championship the same day we're hoping it'll be changed to Sunday,” says Kiely.
“Ah look, I'll be there, I definitely will be there. I'll have to just sacrifice one or the other, but hopefully I'll get to do the two.
“It's just this year with Covid and everything it's difficult. Club championships are being squeezed in, this is being squeezed in, it's a tough time but hopefully.”
Kiely is the defending M. Donnelly All-Ireland Poc Fada Final having won it in 2018 and 2019 (it didn’t take place in 2020 due to Covid-19) and it's a competition he takes very seriously.
A Community Games U-12 long puck champion in his youth, Kiely and his younger brother Cathal then competed in the U-16 grade in the Poc Fada before graduating to the senior ranks.
Needless to say, Kiely has a ferocious belt of a ball, but he puts his back to back M. Donnelly All-Ireland Poc Fada Final victories down to strategy as much as power.
“It's all about learning the course,” says Kiely. “My first U-16 win I got talking to Brendan Cummins afterwards and he was telling me the way he trains and the way he does it and I kind of listened to him.
“It was only when I did my first year of the senior that I knew where he was coming from. It takes you that two or three years to learn the course. There is a right way and a wrong way and one shot could have you down the side of the mountain and then it's two shots back up and at that stage you're out of contention.
“You see the scores there, one shot can win it, even metres can win it. It's about learning the course. My father learned the course fierce well, he goes in front of me all the time, guides me in the right direction, because you're pucking over hills that you can't see. It's blind so kind of like golf in that way, it's all about putting it in the right place. There's a bit in it, I can't give away too much secrets either!”
When Kiely won the All-Ireland Final for the first time in 2018 he equalled the record of 48 pucks required to complete the course that had been set by former Tipperary goalkeeper, Brendan Cummins, in 2004.
Considering that eight-time champion Cummins has stated his ambition to win 10 All-Irelands before he’s finished, he possibly regrets now taking a young Kiely aside and teaching him some of the secrets of the course.
“Yeah, maybe so,” laughs Kiely. “He probably didn't think I'd be a contender against him some day. Ah look, Brendan is a lovely man, a gentleman and very competitive fella. He wants 10 obviously, he told me that at the very start, he wants 10.
“Our conversations, you know, he told me how he trains, Brendan hits 52 balls every time he goes to the field because he reckons that's in and around how many balls he's going to hit on the day. That's serious. I don't even go that far.”
Kiely is an outlier in so far as the vast majority of champions over the years have been legendary goalkeepers like Cummins, Ger Cunningham, and Davy Fitzgerald.
For an outfielder like Kiely, competing with goalkeepers has required him to do the sort of training he wouldn’t normally do at other times of the year.
“I don't know if it's easier for them, I can't say, but a lot of goalkeepers compete,” he says. “I remember the first year I won, I was the only outfield player. Plus goalies are very direct, with modern day hurling sure you have to be pinpoint accurate. You have the likes of Eoin Murphy, Brendan Cummins, they can hit a ball 130 yards and drop it in a small square. They're brilliant. That's where I do be practising more than anything, changing my strike a small bit to get more accuracy because when you're forcing a shot it can go anywhere. It takes me a week or two to adapt, just slow down the strike and get more power.
“Then I go up on the Friday night, just for a few pucks, just to get used to it. At the start, when I was starting to do the senior one, I used to go up the Friday night and do the full course.
“But it does take a lot out of you. I know the course now, a few pucks, maybe five or six shots up and five or six back. That does me, it's kind of routine now at this stage. It's nice to get up and get a few shots before the day.”