Do not go gentle into that good night...Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas might have been referring to old age when he penned those words, but they had a particular resonance in the context of Ciaran Kilkenny's performance for Castleknock against St Vincent's in the Dublin Senior Football Championship final on Saturday. As he stepped out of the spotlight of Friday night's Opel All-Stars and into the bright, fresh sunlight at Parnell Park Saturday afternoon, Kilkenny bravely raged and fought until the shrill final whistle forced him into reluctant defeat.
Thirteen minutes have passed in the game and Castleknock have already landed two points into St Vincent's goalkeeper Michael Savage's arms. Three points down already and scoreless, there are worried expressions painted all over the Castleknock supporters' faces. But then Kilkenny takes a ball and drives down the right hand side and fires over a point from a difficult angle. Six minutes later, after being moved into full-forward, he bursts through a tackle, turns and slots a score from the opposite side of the pitch. Now Castleknock trail by a point. Kevin Kindlon has scored in the intervening period (as has Gavin Burke for St Vincent's) but Kilkenny's points are like war cries. They symbolise an intolerance for anything less than defiant resistance.
While Diarmuid Connolly struggled to escape the bounds of lethargy, Kilkenny embraced the heavy burden of responsibility on his young shoulders and carried that weight until his body gave in. The contrast between the two was never more greatly epitomised than eight minutes into the second half when Kilkenny sprinted fifteen yards to help two team-mates in their pursuit of Connolly. He stole the ball with an effective hit and set up a Castleknock attack, Connolly for once defeated by a superior opponent.
Six minutes later, Kilkennny put in a huge hit on a St Vincent's defender that sparked Vincent's Ger Brennan to respond with an ill-timed challenge of his own and get sent off. Two minutes after that, he burst through the defence and was fouled for a crucial free. Throughout the course of the match he alternated between up front, midfield and his own defence, trying desperately to plug all the holes at once in a sinking ship on a violent, merciless swell. Near the end of the match, with Castleknock five points down, Kilkenny sprinted out from his own forward line, demanding the ball, only for a team-mate to kick the ball aimlessly away. He bent over and rested his hands on his knees, seeming poised for a second to give in, to do what no one could fault him for doing, and accept that it just wasn't meant to be. To take the hand of fate and go gently into the night.
But he didn't. He motored until the ref called time.
Watching Kilkenny on Saturday afternoon was a fascinating study in the power of human will via the lens of sporting endeavour. Kilkenny is all things for Castleknock. Diarmuid Connolly started slowly and still his teammates were strong enough to carry him until he got on the ball a bit more in the second period. Kilkenny could not afford that luxury. The 23-year-old was the beacon of hope for Castleknock supporters. His ability powered the excited pre-match chatter walking to the ground and the nervous smiles from Castleknock fans during half-time, with both sides still level.
Very proud of our lads today gave it our all,Vins such a great side!Learning experience for our lads,Tks so much @CastleknockGAA 4 Support💙💛
— Ciarán Kilkenny (@CKKilkenny93) November 5, 2016
There is something remarkable about the ability of young sportspeople to deal with this sort of pressure. Ciaran Kilkenny has known from a young age that the burden of his extraordinary talent is that more will be expected of him than of others. With Dublin he can have a poor half like Connolly did on Saturday and know his team-mates will cover for him. With the club, there is no margin for error.
And these are the people who formed him, among whom he became a man. To fail them would wound him unlike any other loss. The pressure to perform in his club jersey is perhaps even greater than it is when he plays for his county.
(Below: in action for Castleknock in the All-Ireland Junior Football semi-final three years ago)
As the Castleknock players left the dressing room yesterday after the game, their worn and devastated faces spoke of players seeking to escape from the of the attention of the crowds to find solace elsewhere.
I stood in the cold air, recorder in hand, waiting for Kilkenny to emerge. Then a thought struck me. I realised that words from Kilkenny were now as useless as music caught in the wind. For when a man has given his heart and soul, speech is an inadequate tool. I stepped out past the barrier and walked away, past the pitch and towards the stadium exit.