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April 16, 2016, will forever be remembered as one of the lowest points in Kilkenny GAA as their Minor footballers were subjected to a 70-point beating by Wexford in the Electric Ireland Leinster Minor Football Championship.
The fallout from that defeat was major as the Kilkenny county board came in for huge criticism over the perceived lack of development within the county’s football structures.
As a result, the Kilkenny Minor footballers were pulled from the Leinster Championship and would not be seen or heard from for three years. Many assumed that Kilkenny folk had resigned themselves to the fact that football would never improve within the county and that they would fade off into the distance. They were wrong though.
That defeat in 2016 hurt but it was never going to be the last we saw of them because underneath it all, Kilkenny were preparing for a comeback with a little help from county legend and hurling hero, DJ Carey.
“It was more of a pride thing because we were either going to pull out of football altogether and not do it or put in an effort because those boys that played three or four years ago with the minors, they did their best. The management prepared them whatever way they could but it wasn’t good enough at the time so that’s what my interest was. It was to make sure that if we ever did it again we would be prepared,” Carey told Off The Ball.
The nine-time All-Star devoted three years to getting Kilkenny footballers back into the Electric Ireland Minor Championship, taking over a group of players and preparing them from U14 level before making a return to the championship in 2019.
However, it isn’t easy to prepare a group of players for one sport when they are so used to playing another. Carey admits that one of their main challenges was to get the team thinking and playing like footballers.
“We held onto the ball. Of old, Kilkenny might have got the ball and played it like hurling – kicked it as far as we could. But we tried to work it out and work it out on the field.
“We tried to play like football and as I said to one or two others, we’re hurling people trying to look after football. So I’ve never been to a football training session in another county. I’d never seen football being coached.
“So we were trying to coach it off the television or off of being at matches that we’ve seen ourselves, rather than having everything perfect.
“You have to be able to coach people to learn. You have to be able to learn to kick it, to catch it and to hand pass it. So all that had to be brought into it along the way as well.
To take a sport at its lowest ebb in a region and strive to improve the standards and prepare a group of players for competition is no mean feat but Carey admits he couldn’t have done it alone.
The five-time All-Ireland winner was quick to praise the work of parents who have done so much over the last three years to get the Kilkenny Minor footballers back on the field.
“But I would give the parents of the young fellas’ fantastic admiration. I’m not saying the clubs didn’t promote it, we’d 16 clubs involved in our minor set-up but certainly the parents, there were no expenses over the last three years, there were no meals after training, there were no meals after the couple of matches that we did get to play. So there was nothing.”
Brought to you by Electric Ireland
Minor players are embarking on their adult lives. They have hopes, dreams, pressures, distractions and ambitions, but for this one moment in time, the Electric Ireland Minor Championships is the major thing in their lives.
Follow the conversation at #GAAThisIsMajor or be a part of the action; watch a selection of the GAA Minor Hurling & Football matches live or vote for your Minor Player of the week, with all nominated players in with a chance of making the Electric Ireland Minor Team of the Year 2019.
Find all information on https://www.electricireland.ie/gaa-minor-championships.