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Kieran Kingston: ‘Nothing is bigger or more important than Cork hurling’

By Michael Moynihan

By his own admission Kieran Kingston finds the role of spectator a tricky one.

Having prowled the sideline as Cork senior hurling manager for the last two years, he’s now another punter in the stands.

“I find that very difficult because you’re looking down and thinking you might do this and that. You see the game better in the stand, but you’ve to work on not becoming one of those lads who knows it all as well.”

It’s only now, he says, that he realises the sheer amount of time that management consumes.

“Between training, meetings with players or backroom staff, games, analysis — even on your own, you’re reflecting on everything, games, players, planning, opposition.

“It’s bordering on a full-time role — and then it’s gone. Then, even if it’s a matter of just meeting a pal for a game of golf, you suddenly have far more time.

“To be successful managing it commands that amount of your time. If you can’t commit to that, then you’re not being honest with yourself, the players, backroom team, the supporters, the board, and most importantly Cork hurling.

“Nothing is bigger or more important than Cork hurling. Staying involved under any other circumstances is doing so for the wrong reasons, be that profile or whatever.” This year the time demands are greater if anything, with the new championship format.

[quote]“Don’t get me wrong, it’s hugely rewarding. I said in my first interview after getting the role that it was a massive honour and now I’d say it’s an even bigger honour than I realised at the time.” [/quote]

“I was delighted to do the job and that we had some success along the way — who knows, we might even have started something really good for the future.”

How does that time get eaten up, however?

“Every manager has his own approach and routine, but basically we’d work back from the throw-in and plan from that for travel, food, recovery, and so on.

“For a Semple Stadium game we’d aim to eat near Thurles three hours before the game and to be in the dressing room an hour beforehand.

“Say the game is 4pm, you want to be in the dressing room at 3, so you want to leave where you’ve eaten, say Holycross, at 2.30pm.

“You ate at 1 so you want to be in Holycross for 12.45; you need to leave Cork at 11. That means meeting at 10.45 in Cork, but the management team might meet an hour before that again.” At the final whistle, another schedule kicks in.

“The game’s at 4, so afterwards, with media interviews and immediate dressing room involvement and so on, you’re probably out of the stadium around 6.30pm.

“The schedule thereafter is determined by how soon your next game is — this year the lads would probably be going for food and recovery nearby that evening, while last year we’d have gone back to the Rochestown Park for recovery.

“We’d have used Holycross to eat after games last year, but that’s different when you’re playing every week.” Sunday is the focus but the work is done during the week.

How does that routine run?

“Normally we’d train on a Tuesday and Friday — it used to be Tuesday and Thursday — but that also depends on how much you did the week beforehand.

“We might have done a lot over three nights the previous week, as well as Saturday and Sunday, so you might have five sessions done from the previous week.

“If so, the week of the game you might do 50 minutes including the warm-up on the Tuesday, and around 30 minutes on the Friday night, with a match on Sunday. It’s all about freshness at that stage.” Then there are meetings and analysis, planning for scenarios — and dealing with the panel.

“Only 15 can start and you’ve 11 on the subs’ bench, and another 10 in the stands.

“But the 36 must all be pushing forward together the Tuesday night after a game again. The involvement of number 36 must be as strong as the lads starting, though they’re not all at the same stage of development.

“Take a young lad who’s just out of minor, who’s there as part of his development: you’re telling him ‘you may not puck a ball in a game for a year or two but you need this experience’.

“Another guy may be more seasoned, so his role is different.

“Those 36 guys have to be managed. There’s competition, and competition is good, but you also need them to gel.” That chemistry is essential among the backroom staff as well.

“Factor in another 15 or so there, and they all need to be singing from the same hymn sheet. For instance, you need confidentiality — but you also have to get those guys to understand what you’re doing and to buy into it.

“That’s crucial because the players may deal with the trainers or masseurs or kit guy more than they talk to you or the selectors. I was very lucky in that I had a group with me who were as committed and ambitious as I was, and whose only objective was for Cork to be successful.

“Every time you go training you have 50 people, more or less, under your management, people you have to bring with you. It takes time to build those relationships, to develop people’s roles. It’s human nature that everyone wants their say and their input, which is great, but that enthusiasm and information must be channelled in one direction as well.” Is it all about finding time, then?

“It is, from every perspective. The players are amateurs, some with young families, some of them travelling with work, all of which limits your time with and access to them.

“Working one on one with them means being flexible. You don’t want to delay a fella after training if he has to drive an hour home at 10pm at night and then is up for work the following morning at 7am.

“So you have to be flexible to do that extra work with them. The other selectors row in there but again, that’s all time and commitment from other people as well. If you train at 7 then the kit guy (Pa Keane) is there before 5, so you must consider the time they’re putting in on a voluntary basis.

“You’re limited in how you can reward that, but you’re not limited in your appreciation of it, certainly. But that comes back on your own time. I’m self-employed and you’ve to be fair with people you’re working with and for as well.

“Balancing all of that with the small matter of a family . . . it’s very challenging. The time required is the key factor. I’ve been lucky in that work is busy and now I can give it the time. Nothing is more valuable than your time.” 

So much for the present. How about the future, immediate and long-term?

Kieran Kingston, right, and selector Diarmuid O’Sullivan watch the final moments of Cork’s Munster final win over Clare in June 2017. Picture: Brendan Moran.

“I’d have emphasised developing younger players so I was interested in the minors and U21s and bringing them through, and even if they didn’t do it every day they got used to the set-up, and the older lads became leaders naturally.

“Young players are fantastic around a panel. Once they know you believe in them and have confidence in them, they’ll reward that in spades.

“I’d place huge emphasis on the ‘inter-county temperament’ — once you realise they have the temperament to go with the skills at 19/20, then you leave them off and have confidence in them.

“If you don’t, they’ll be looking at the sideline after 20 minutes if their man gets a score or they’re not getting on the ball, thinking they’re gone — then you won’t get the best out of them.”

Integrating the present and future, then; yet another element in finding time and making time.

“My view would be that you try to leave Cork hurling in a positive place when you hand over,” says Kingston.

”It’s not just a matter of your own term, you have a responsibility not only to your own group, but to the future development of Cork hurling.

“We were trying to do that in late 2015 and 2016, though a lot of people weren’t aware of it then. We saw the benefits of it in 2017 and now in 2018, with guys like Sean O’Donoghue — it’s fantastic to see that.”

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.