Kilkenny 'inspired' by reaction to Twitter skills videos
By John Harrington
It was fitting that Dublin footballer Ciarán Kilkenny should be on hand to help launch the 2020 GAA Kellogg’s Cúl Camps today considering his own commitment to nurturing the talent of the next generation of GAA players.
Over the course of nine weeks not long after the country was locked down by the Covid-19 pandemic, Kilkenny took to Twitter to provide an invaluable outlet to children up and down the country who were now confined to their back gardens.
The hurling and gaelic football skills videos he produced and then asked young players to replicate quickly gained a dedicated following that grew into a community all of its own.
At a time when parents were finding it hard to keep their children occupied, Kilkenny’s initiative made him a very popular man in households nationwide.
“It was great,” said Kilkenny today at the launch of the 2020 GAA Kellogg’s Cúl Camps.
“Rewarding and fulfilling and inspiring to see all the engagement. Kids all over the country engaging with the skills, football and hurling. Even before they were going back to the Kellogg's Cul Camps they were training with their clubs and parents were sending me messages saying John or Emma or whatever names have improved on their left side, thanks so much, they're really looking forward to going back to their clubs.
“The messages and letters from kids and parents, it meant a lot to get them from them. That they had that time in the day that they had a bit of structure and they went out every day and practiced their skills and posted their video online.
“To do that for nine weeks was also very good for me to bond with my mam as well. She took part in some of the skills and she was taking videos. We did it every morning at half ten and posted it then after that. So to do that with my mam was pretty special as well.
“For me it was really purposeful as well to coach the kids every day. Every night I was twisting and turning because I was running out of skills by the end of it. I was very fortunate to have a couple of friends to bounce ideas off as well.
“I'll look back on that nine weeks with a smile, I suppose, just to see how much people took part and engaged with it and to see the improvement all the kids made as well was really special.
“Because, you know, you think these days that the days are gone of kids going out the back and practicing their skills, but they're definitely not.
“You could see them all over the country engaging in the skills and that's probably one of the most empowering things through lockdown, all the different people and all the different clubs whether it was U-8s, U-9s, U-10s, U-11s, U-12s, the amount of messages I got from clubs that were doing it themselves and had WhatsApp groups that they were sending on skills to the kids was really, really special.
“It was also very empowering to see how creative and innovative that clubs were in doing things whether it was a cycle, a run, or a skills video and all in aid of really good causes, charitable causes.
“To see that and see how positive people could be during the lockdown and how strong and together the community was from doing this and how they could turn a negative into a positive was most positive throughout this time.”
During his lifetime Christy Ring was commonly hailed as the greatest hurler to have ever played the game.
Ring himself was clearly a humble sort, though, because he once famously said “Let no-one say the best hurlers belong to the past, they’re with us now and better yet to come.”
That quote from Ring would come to mind when you’d find yourself shaking your head in disbelief at the skill level of the young footballers and hurlers who uploaded their own version of Ciaran Kilkenny’s skill challenges to Twitter.
“I know!”, says Kilkenny. “That was the thing. I would have coached the drill in gaelige and english and I would have gotten videos later on that day where you'd have kids that were executing the skill a lot better than me and doing it at a much better pace and were doing it with more finesse.
“That was a great thing as well that one day a week the kids had the opportunity to practice the skills that they'd learned that week but also they had an opportunity to show me a skill that they would like me to do.
“To see how creative they could be then as well. Like one day we did an obstacle course with the kids all in aid of the Childhood Cancer Foundation. But to see how innovative and creative they could be with their skills was incredible as well.
“A couple of kids were even sending me messages saying, "Ciarán, I think you should do this skill. And I'm like, 'yeah, over to you guys, you take over, you're better coaches and players than me!'"
“To see that was really uplifting and it was all over the country. You would have gotten it north, west, south, and east, all over the place. To see it all over the country was really special.
“You build relationships with these people. The same names were popping up and they were interacting with each other and they have developed relationships now that they will have for life and that they can keep up to date.
“But, also, for me, in years to come I might see these names in Croke Park or playing for their club or county and the highest level and it would be really nice and special to be able to say that they engaged with my skill stuff throughout lockdown.”