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'It's Not Wrestling A Lion': David Herity On Playing Senior Football For Kilkenny

'It's Not Wrestling A Lion': David Herity On Playing Senior Football For Kilkenny
By Conor Neville Updated

Since the weekend, philosophers have been pondering one of the great questions of our time, what motivates a person to tog out for the Kilkenny footballers?

David Herity admits that there's easily scope for some enterprising comedy yarn spinner to publish a book collating all the myths and stories told about Kilkenny football down the years.

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A popular and widely believed one involves the Kilkenny bench warming-up on the pitch at half-time in a junior football game. While the earnest young men on the opposition bench diligently practice their shooting lest they're introduced in the second half, the Kilkenny subs while away the interval by dispensing with the size 5s and pulling out their hurls and a bag of sliotars.

Despite the dearth of primary sources around to verify it, the barroom raconteurs have decided that the story is true.

You honestly could write a book about Kilkenny football and the myths that go on. Sure, I heard one there recently about a ball going over the sideline and your man saying 'Do I throw it in or kick it in?' It's that kind of shite.                 

Before Herity nailed down a regular spot on the Kilkenny hurling panel, he was the captain of the Kilkenny senior footballers during their League campaign in 2008.


After collecting a couple of medals as an unused sub, Herity replaced PJ Ryan as Kilkenny No.1 for the 2011 and 2012 seasons, winning two All-Irelands back-to-back. He collected another All-Ireland medal as an on-off starter during the 2014 season.

When he retired from the inter-county hurling scene after the 2014 championship, he immediately returned to the football setup.


I've played in goal all my life. I just had a love for football because it was the one chance I had to get out and play outfield.

My Dad is from Sligo and my Mam is from Monaghan so there would have been that element as well. Just watching the football at home. And just enjoying it, looking out for Sligo, looking for out Monaghan in the football championship.

And I went on and played for St. Pat's in Drumcondra there. And obviously, we would have had very successful teams at Third Level there. We would have done very well in freshers and we would have been very competitive in the Sigerson B competition. I would have been lucky enough to play, between championship and league, seven or eight finals with them.

Those years when lads go off to college and they predominantly play hurling, I would have played more football in Pat's than I would have hurling. I just would have enjoyed it a lot more. A lot of it would have had to do with the fact that you get out of goal as well and it's not the usual being caged inside in the small square.

The obvious question is; how do you motivate yourself to play for the Kilkenny footballers? Aside from his enjoyment of the game and the honour of wearing the jersey, Herity felt he owed something to Kilkenny football and the people straining to keep the game alive in the county.



When outside the hurling fold in early 2008, he was appointed captain of the county footballers, despite his club not having won the county championship. That year, Kilkenny mustered a decent challenge in the League, beating London in Nowlan Park and putting it up to Carlow. There were also the usual hammerings.

Where's the motivation coming from? I always felt myself, Kilkenny football was very good to me back through the years. I would have played with them in the Tommy Murphy in 2006 and 2007. It was always just an honour to play with them and get out with them and pit yourself against the best at that grade.

I always felt myself that when the hurling did finish, I owed a bit of time to the footballers. To give back to them what they gave to me years ago. In 2008, in my first League, they gave me the captaincy. Our club hadn't won the championship but they gave me the captaincy.

Last year it was fantastic to win. It is easier to play with the hurling team when there is so much backing for it and there's so much support. I suppose for myself, I just like the challenge of the whole thing.

At some stage, I do see Kilkenny... now it's a long bloody way down the line, and I don't know whether I'll be around or not, or alive or not, but, Jesus, at some stage you'd hope to see Kilkenny back there, competing.

During their days of huffing and puffing away in Division 4 of the National League, playing for Kilkenny was too often all about coming to terms with monumental beatings. A heroic study in human resilience. Their performances receded badly in the early 2010s, during which the second worst in the country would regularly beat the shite out of them.

What does one do at half-time when you're fifteen points down and even winning the second half is a unrealisable ambition?

It's all about small targets. I always used to say to the lads before the match, 'we get to double scores and we take it from there.' And that might sound defeatist but you have to be realistic going out. There was a huge effort that year (2008). We got the win against London in Nowlan Park which was fantastic because it was on the same day as the League semi-final. The hurlers were playing afterwards against Tipperary and there was a full house, and I suppose ironically, we actually won and the hurlers lost.

But there was some serious beatings. You understood yourself you've just got to keep going. There's absolutely no point in taking a beating, sulking and then going out with a defeatist attitude in the second half because these teams don't give up. You've to dust yourself off, you've to try and find some little bit of motivation. My old target was always 'we get to double scores and we try and kick on from there'. It didn't always work out but...

If you go in with the Kilkenny footballers, you've got to be thick-skinned. Too many lads don't go in with the footballers because, for some strange reason, they think they're above that station and above representing them. So, I have respect for any lad because they're going to be in the frontline for any abuse when things go wrong or if things go wrong. But these lads don't seem to care about that and it shows there's a lot of love for the game among the lads.

In a wonderful quirk, the Kilkenny senior footballers are currently managed by an ex-Kerry hurler. Christy Walsh played for Kerry from 1982 to 2000.

Based on that record, casual observers might dub him a kind of GAA equivalent of the 'Patron Saint of Lost Causes' (or the 'Patron Saint of Difficult Challenges' as St. Jude's 21st century PR guru might be inclined to term it).

However, this would be violently wide of the mark. Walsh, who has lived in KK for two decades, has managed his adopted club Bennettsbridge to two successive All-Ireland club hurling titles. In 2015, they claimed the All-Ireland junior title beating Fullen Gaels of Manchester in the final. Then, this year, in their first year stepping up, they won the All-Ireland intermediate title, pipping Galway intermediate champs Abbeyknockmoy in the final.

Walsh scored 1-1 from centre-half forward when Kerry stunned a callow Waterford team containing the naive talents of Paul Flynn and Tony Browne in Walsh Park in 1993. It is Kerry's only senior Munster championship win in the past eighty years.

And as it goes, 2015 was a good year for the Kilkenny footballers. They won the British Championship for the first time, beating Scotland 2-7 to 0-9 in the final in Edinburgh.

In the spring of 2012, after shipping a couple of scoreboard breaking hidings in the National League, Kilkenny bowed out of the competition and stepped into the British championship.

While ostensibly a step-down, this switch may have heightened the appeal of playing for the Kilkenny footballers. The chance of a trip abroad.

Walsh tells us 'ah sure, we have played in Edinburgh, and played in Birmingham, and Ruislip, and whatever the pitch is called outside Manchester'.

The Cup win last June brought with it the rarest of gifts, good publicity. Herity, who returned to the football scene for last year's campaign, is quick to pay tribute to Walsh and fellow trainer JJ Grace.

Christy is one of those strange phenomenons. He's a Kerryman who has come up to Kilkenny. He's put in huge effort with the footballers. But when you think about it, what he's achieved with the Bennetsbridge team he's over there. He's won six trophies, along with the British championship. So, he's won seven trophies in the last eighteen months there.

What is the profile of the Kilkenny football team? How many of them are hurlers? According to Herity, almost all play hurling to some level, the majority being club players. As soon as they muscle their way onto the hurling panel, their flirtation with football is put on hold. However, there is a large clique of players drawn from the Railyard football club in the north of the county.

Last year, we had Tom Keogh, who would have been on the Kilkenny (hurling) panel for a few years around '13 and '14. Pat Hartley is playing with us this year. He would have been part of the hurling panel around 2010 and 2011.

A good few of them would have come from the Railyard football club, there'd be eight of them from up there. They're one of the few sole Kilkenny football clubs. They also play in the Carlow League. We have to be very specific about this. Railyard and Kilmaganny, my club, both of us are in the county final. We're the only clubs that play with a football name. We're Kilmaganny football but Dunamaggin hurling.

Most of the players would just be club hurlers.

Sadly, many of the fellas with an aptitude for football have their heads turned by other pursuits.

In other words, 'he was a great minor but then the hurling got him'.

Jackie's (Tyrrell) just a very good footballer. Richie P0wer would be very good. Eoin Larkin would be excellent. The likes of Martin Comerford back through the years. Noel Hickey would have been on my club as well. These are lads who are well able to play the game. But hurling is going to take precedence over everything. That's just the way it is.

You'd love if a few of these lads, when they did retire from the hurling, they'd be able to come back with the football. I suppose the likes of Richie Power, the cartilage is gone in his knee so that's that gone, and Jackie has decided to stay another year with the hurlers again, God knows when he's going to finish to be honest. Even one of our best players from last year, Michael Malone, a phenomenal footballer, was brought into the hurling panel this year. So, you know, that just kills a bit of momentum. The team we had last year was very good.

And the perennial. The thorny issue of 'keeping lads around for the summer' becomes trickier the more you descend the GAA ladder. For the Kilkenny football panel, the turnover of players due to emigration is non-stop.

If you're with Kilkenny (the hurlers) lads would do everything for you they possibly can. Jobwise, these would nearly be given to them to make sure they're still around. Someone might help out a lad and get him a job somewhere. There's full employment on the Kilkenny hurling panel.

And with the football, you know yourself, people aren't going to give you a job because you play county football. And unfortunately some of these lads have to go abroad. We've already lost four lads from last year. So, the bones of nearly a third of your team could be gone every year.

How much did the publicity surrounding Saturday's minor result affect the morale of people involved in football in Kilkenny?

Your initial reaction to it is one of sickening disappointment because all it does is throw fuel on the fire that's already out there for people giving out about Kilkenny and the whole state of football in the county and it was extremely disappointing considering that last year we got... well, we didn't get a whole lot of press, but the press that we did get was largely positive about our win in the junior championship. And, in a way it was just a kick in the stomach to the people that are trying their very best to get it off the ground in Kilkenny. And to those people it was an awful kick to the stomach.

Unfortunately, when a Kilkenny football team take the field against serious opposition these days, the most realistic ambition is to lose by a margin which is of no interest to the internet. The minor footballers failed to meet that modest ambition on Saturday.

But, as Herity points out, how many minor hurling teams around the country would suffer a similar humiliation? Essentially, the Kilkenny minors shouldn't have been plonked in the same competition as Wexford.

Since Saturday, some have advanced the view that Kilkenny should be financially penalised for being so poor at football or, in these commenters view, putting so little effort into it.

The suspicion here is that these are folk so weary of Kilkenny's hurling dominance and so hungry for variety at the top that they are willing to use any ammunition to damage Cody's team.

It's rarely suggested that the likes of Cavan should be penalised for their disinterest in hurling. If the Leitrim minor hurlers played the Galway minors in the Connacht championship this year - and a 71-point margin would probably be at the lower end of expectations for such a game - would people be proposing that Leitrim be stripped of a portion of their already meagre resources?

This is one thing I can't get me head around. The Kilkenny minor footballers played Wexford last weekend. This is a team (Kilkenny) that don't have a great tradition in the whole thing and they're going in and playing in a competition that's completely out of their league.

But if you had the same thing in minor hurling all over the whole country and put them all playing against each other had Galway taking on Leitrim in the Connacht championship, and Kilkenny taking on Louth in Leinster, sure Jesus, it'd be quite easy to see another 71-point beating.

But people don't see that, like! They wouldn't go along and say 'Louth are absolutely shit' and everyone would start laughing at Louth. Louth are playing in their B competition and they're playing at their level. And Mayo are playing at their level and they're being competitive at their level and they're not put like lambs out to the slaughter against a Galway team or something like that.

While Christy Walsh says the county board have been 'excellent', Herity feels there is need for everyone in Kilkenny to examine their role.

And players are perhaps more culpable than anyone. A popular view among Kilkenny hurlers is that football is a dangerous activity, thoroughly bad for your health and your hurling prospects.

I just think clubs, players, county board, everyone needs to look at themselves. There is literally no point in putting together a development squad and the clubs don't send in the players. And if the clubs nominate the players and the players don't come in... it's a vicious circle.

There's this awful myth between every single lad who played hurling, that 'Jaysus, I'm not playing football, I might get injured', as if it's wrestling a lion, like.

But it's extremely difficult. Every other club and county in the country can look to a minor or an U21 team and say to themselves who have three or four lads coming in off that panel and give a boost to it.

We haven't had an U21 team since they got a badly beaten against Louth about four or five years ago. And then you look at the minor team. They go into the competition that they're in. After the beating, it's hard to know what they're going to do now. Are they just going to give up again and say it was a bad idea.

I must saying it was a great sign there tonight when we were playing with the Kilkenny footballers tonight, there was 30 minors, having just got the beating they got last Saturday, out training in football at a quarter past 6 in Kilkenny.

They're back training there tonight. Little things like that, it's a fantastic sight.

Read more: 'Love's Young Dream Incarnate': Former Galway Footballer Gets The Barry Egan Treatment

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