Paddy Deegan grew up, as most children in Kilkenny do, wanting to play for his county. So you can understand why the nerves set in when he finally got that call to play under Brian Cody.
The Kilkenny manager used the League last year to find some young, hidden gems and integrated them into the team throughout the Championship. Deegan was one of the players who impressed after being in and around the squad for a number of years, and he is determined to continue that trend in 2019.
Nailing down your spot in a team as fiercely competitive as Kilkenny is never easy, especially with a new crop of players coming through. Having experienced it all first hand, Deegan is well aware of what is facing them.
“It was a bit nerve-wracking at the time going in first to the dressing room you get nervous, but you have to put that to the one side fairly quickly and just get on with the work and try your best to get onto the team and help them win.”“I think the young lads are coming in and they are going to be nervous, but like I said they are grounded and they are exceptionally good hurlers. they are going to work hard.”
The O’Loughlin Gaels man has a slight advantage over his competition, in that he is comfortable in a number of different positions. While he is used to patrolling midfield at club level, he was dispatched to corner-back last year.
“I play midfield for the club, in around there or the half-back line.”
“Ah I didn’t mind it. I was used to the backs, being a defender anyway. You want to keep on top of your man in there, it’s a different environment to midfield but if I’m playing I’m happy and I think anybody that knows me would say the same thing.”
“I just want to be playing hurling and playing hurling with Kilkenny is a dream come true, especially when you’ve been watching them growing up so much you want to be there and experience it so when you get your chance you just want to try and hold on to it.”
It was a mixed year for the Cats, having won the National League title, coming so close to winning the Leinster championship, before eventually falling to Limerick in the quarter-finals. It certainly isn’t going to get any easier for Cody’s side in 2019, but with the competition fiercer than ever, Deegan is relishing the challenge that lies ahead.
“It’s fiercely competitive. There are five or six teams, even seven or eight teams you could even say that are capable of winning the Championship.”
“I enjoy [the round-robin structure] because you are hurling constantly, you are playing matches, you get to play the whole time.”
“When you are in that county set-up you are enjoying it because you are playing so much.”
Defending Allianz Hurling League Division 1 champions Kilkenny have a special incentive to win this year’s competition, where another success would see them join Tipperary at the top of the honours’ list. Half of Kilkenny’s honours have been won since 2002, including a treble in 2012-13-14 and doubles in 2002-03 and 2005-06. Brian Cody’s men begin their title defence at home to Cork, who were last crowned Allianz Hurling League champions in 1998. This will be the 27th year of Allianz’ partnership with the GAA through their sponsorship of the Allianz Leagues, making it one of the longest sponsorships in Irish sport. It’s a very concentrated programme this year, running between next weekend and March 24, when the Division 1 final will be played.