Progression from humble beginnings

All-Ireland Club JFC Semi-Final
On leaving for Australia in November, Ciaran Kilkenny's club presented him with lifetime membership. A unique gift for a 19-year-old, even more unique that he is older than Castleknock Hurling and Football club.

It wasn’t for brick or mortar that he returned to them. A clubhouse has yet to be built in their Somerton home. It was less than two years ago that they opened their pitches there.

No, as he said in his statement outlining why he was saying no to Hawthorn, it was for the people. People who have made plenty out of the nothing that existed just over 15 years ago.

In its infancy, the west Dublin club has bloomed beyond all recognition with tomorrow’s All-Ireland junior semi-final against Kenmare the latest notch on its burgeoning belt.

Castleknock came to national attention this month but club members would remind you they first made the headlines when they won the Feile Division One hurling title in 2007 with a team boasting a 13-year-old Kilkenny.

“We got (Brian) Cody into our dressing room for the last three matches,” reminisces Johnny Corcoran, one the three founder members of the club. “But we didn’t get expert coaches in or anything like that. It was all local parents.

“When we played Blackrock, we asked the Cork boys ‘where did ye come from’ and they gave me a dvd showing their facilities. The fella said, ‘What facilities have you?’ I gave him a Castleknock cap. That’s all I had.

“I told him, ‘Facilities? We’ve a 20-foot container and a council pitch.’ Then we went out and beat the tar out of them.”

Corcoran is a character. Originally an Erin’s Isle man like fellow founding member John Conway (the third of them, Fergus Hamill, is a Monaghan native), he was keen to settle in the birthplace of his father.

An All-Ireland winner under Kevin Heffernan in 1976, he was an unused substitute in the win over Kerry. “People ask me what did I get out of it,” he chuckles. “I tell them a damp bum!”

That Feile crown was followed by a Dublin minor football title in 2011, a long way from the club’s humble beginnings in 1998 when the trio banged on doors and bars to convince people to join them.

“Our club accelerated with the humour in the country. From ‘98 things were picking up economically. We used to go to the pub nearly every night of the week not for drinking purposes but to meet like-minded Gaelic people who were at a loose end.

“We took loads of people out of the houses that never had any association with a club since they left home.

“As soon as we got the go-ahead from the county board, we entered three teams and it spread like mushrooms.”

Boosted by the encouragement of late Dublin chairman John Egan and Park Developments who gave them a piece of land for their Tir na nÓg pitch (“a green in the middle of the houses — that’s the secret,” says Corcoran), they began.

Offering an avenue for country players in west Dublin, they also started to nurture their own.

“We started from nursery level and developed from there,” recalls club chairman Niall Tutty. “We were fortunate to have a talented group right through the juvenile section.

“From that nursery, we’ve climbed to Division 3 in football and hurling. We’re proud that we’ve grown from the inside.”

Besides the distractions of rugby and soccer, Castleknock also had to contend with carving their own patch in a part of Dublin that had been a recruiting ground for St Brigid’s.

“Naturally enough, because there was no club in Castleknock, the kids there went to play for St Brigid’s,” says Corcoran.

“But when Castleknock was expanded there was room for a club and we filled that vacuum.”

Carpenterstown and Coolmine, booming suburbs before the economic crash, also fall within the club’s catchment area and have swelled their playing resources.

To reflect their growth, they’ve had to double up their officers but coachesremain scarce on the ground.

According to club mentor Anton Cleary, a Wexford man, the club is now at a crossroads.

“We had a juvenile club where all the players were born in the area and an adult club made up of country lads living in Dublin who were happy to tip around playing junior five and junior six.

“Fellas of 23 and 24 from the country don’t transfer to Dublin clubs anymore because of the quality of the roads. They can be home training in an hour or two.

“Next year, the majority of the first team footballers and hurlers will be homebred. They’re not happy to tip around.

“The lads coming through have all played for the county or in development squads. They have high expectations.”

The fear in the club is that having groomed so many players with ambitions of playing senior football and hurling, they might be ripe for the picking from rivals around the city.

Although, Kilkenny’s decision to stay was an incredible advertisement for the club, as Tutty acknowledges: “The easy option for Ciaran would have been to transfer to a senior club in Dublin and ensure he’s at the highest level.

“A new club like ourselves, we rely on the quality players to progress and we need to keep them. We’re ambitious; we want to get to senior status. Ciaran’s decision was a great affirmation of what we’re doing.”

As a dual club with so many from under-age having played both games, the challenge will be to maintain the great strides in hurling and football at adult level over the next while. “It’s topical at the moment but as we are in our formative years are we going to be a mainly football club, a mainly hurling club or can we be both?”

A subject that will have to be addressed but tomorrow is simply progress.

Picture: STAYING POWER: Castleknock’s Ciaran Kilkenny resisted the temptation to join a senior club.

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