ST CATHERINE’S hurling manager Shane Kearney will be hoping to hit the ground running in his first season in charge of his home club.
Hailing from a well-known sporting family, Shane was involved with the Ballynoe outfit as a key player for many years, but when he decided to call time on his career on the field in 2017, there was always a strong likelihood that further involvement would follow.
Now that opportunity has come along as he takes up the mantle of main man, looking to drive his team forward in the competitive surrounds of the county lower intermediate championship.
After a series of impressive outings last term, under the guidance of Sean O’Farrell, the Saints just came up short in the county semi-final against Russell Rovers.
Thus, they must start all over again in their bid to be crowned county champions.
It’s a first hurling managerial gig for 41-year-old Shane, who last season was in charge of the club’s footballers, a role which incidentally he will also fill in 2021.
“Myself and Seanie (O’Farrell) are great friends behind the scenes, so obviously I was closely watching how things were progressing.
“After retiring I took a few years off just to chill out. Then last year I managed the footballers and while we did not set the world alight, it was an enjoyable experience,” Kearney said.
“Basically, management is in my blood as my father, Willie, coached and managed St Catherine’s and other clubs over the years, so I suppose it was always probably something that I was going to naturally fall into.”
Of course, another member of the Kearney clan — brother Liam — has earned sporting fame in soccer as a player and a coach.
After starting his career locally with Valley Rangers, Liam earned a move to Nottingham Forest before returning to play League of Ireland with Cork City, Derry City, Shelbourne, and Waterford United. He was appointed Cork City first team coach in 2017.
Now the sideline spotlight is on his older brother.
“I am really looking forward to the year ahead,” said Shane.
It’s all about getting the right balance between putting an arm around some players or maybe giving more of them a bit of a kick up the backside.
“Having played with a lot of them, obviously I know them very well. Overall last year the team showed lots of potential in what was a reasonably good campaign, despite the disappointing semi-final performance.
“At the moment I feel the potential within the current squad is huge. There is a fanastic underage structure within the club which is reflective of the work that has been put in through the local schools.
“Now the talent is coming through. We have seven minors on the panel this year for the first time, with another four or five coming next year.
“These guys are showing huge promise, to the point that a few of them could be starting on the first championship day.”
The re-emergence of bigger playing numbers mirrors the cycle that is so familiar in many GAA clubs.
St Catherine’s won the county PIHC in 2004 and enjoyed some great years afterwards, before the squad thinned out and the club slipped back down the ranks.
But after winning the divisional and county junior titles four years ago, the wheel has certainly turned in the right direction.
Shane Kearney played a key role in both those county success stories spanning a 13-year gap.
"Yes, those two wins were definitely the career highlights.
My first championship match was in 1997 and I was lucky to have played senior championship for several years. We enjoyed a few great seasons, getting to a couple of quarter-finals and beating the likes of Glen Rovers, Na Piarsaigh, and Blackrock when we were at our best.
“We subsequently lost the likes of Mike Fitzgerald, Kieran Morrisson, and Johnny Sheehan, who were all big players and we more or less went down a slippery slope after that.
“But now we have the right mix and I think everybody has a spring in their step when they see the younger players emerging. New faces, new ideas, and new challenges make for potentially exciting times. “
All that means that the club from Ballynoe, Conna, and Curraglass have a definite aim for 2021.
“Our objective is very much to win the county championship. We have big ambitions and everything we are doing is working towards that goal.”
On a broader note, there is a real vibrancy around this rural club at the moment, after over €200,000 was invested in developing facilities, including a new community walking track which has been a huge hit.
“The place is looking better than ever and that really heightens our desire to get back.
“For me, the club has always had fantastic vision off the field. Our facilities are now top class — it’s a tribute to chairman Pat Clancy and everybody involved to see the massive progress that has been made.”
A keen all-round sportsman Shane is back running again after missing almost 12 months with a knee injury.
Prior to that he had posted a very impressive personal best of two hours 53 minutes in the Chicago Marathon; now he will be hoping that his hurling team can instantly pick up the pace when they return to collective training in the not too distant future.