By Peter McNamara
On the night the All-Stars awards are handed out later this year, you can expect Ciarán Kilkenny, barring injuries, to be the man picking up the Footballer of the Year award.
This will be Kilkenny’s summer, the summer the country finally appreciates his immense craft and footballing brain in a campaign which should yield a fourth Dublin All-Ireland success on the spin, the first four-in-a-row in the capital’s history.
People might be close to sick of hearing it here, but Kilkenny is simply different gravy to his peers.
Even within a remarkable Dublin outfit, he’s the man. Oddly, a few have doubted his worth in the last two to three seasons. That is, frankly, bizarre.
However, this forthcoming All-Ireland series will prove the naysayers were wide of the mark all along.
Followed by Brian Fenton and Dean Rock, Kilkenny will steer Jim Gavin’s ship from a more advanced position this summer which will also enable the attacker to contribute even more to the scoreboard, as evidenced in Dublin’s successful league campaign.
In full flow, Kilkenny will be close to unmarkable, especially at Croke Park where his energy and intelligence will hurt the opposition in a major way.
Up until this point, maybe we were only scratching the surface with Kilkenny in terms of the depth of what he has to offer the Metropolitan’s cause.
He was, in the last three championships, sacrificing the true brilliance of his own game, to benefit the team. And even then he was nothing short of outstanding.
In the next few months, though, we will witness Kilkenny raising more white and green flags and linking play closer to the opposing teams’ goals.
The frightening thing about Kilkenny is he could play at half-back, midfield, half-forward or inside in the full-forward line and be as effective in each line of the park. How many players in the land can you honestly say that about?
Maybe some viewed his versatility as a slight negative. Yet, because of his capacity to adapt and evolve he is now the absolute complete player, and one that will take the Leinster championship and subsequent All-Ireland series by storm.
In fact, in all the years watching this game so intently, it is difficult to recall a player that really had every single attribute required.
Trevor Giles, maybe?
And based on the fact Giles remains the only player to win the Footballer of the Year award twice, in 1996 and 1999, I think it is fair to suggest the Meath man as an operator in the mould of Kilkenny, a player of that standard.
And yet, when we reflect on this magnificent Dublin unit in years to come, we may remember Kilkenny as being even more influential within that dynamic than Giles was with the Royals. That, obviously, is a brave shout as such, especially given how truly exceptional Giles was in his day.
However, Kilkenny can reach an even higher level this summer and beyond and mark himself down as potentially one of the greatest players of all-time.
The way in which Gaelic football at the senior inter-county grade is played presently, Kilkenny is the one man that ticks every box necessary.
Put it this way, if there was a transfer market, he would be the most expensive player around. By a distance.
Additionally, the Castleknock clubman is going for his fifth Celtic Cross. Who would bet against him, as a 25-year-old, ending his career with the Dubs holding, say, seven in his pocket?
Taking Dublin’s extraordinary dominance into the reckoning, seven is a not an unrealistic number.
After all, it would be a shock itself were he not to earn his fifth this year.
It can be suggested that, when Gavin eventually steps away from his post, in the future he might reveal Kilkenny was the one player he trusted more than any other to drive Dublin along this relentless march to trophy after trophy.
I am speculating saying that, but, at the very least, if pushed, Gavin would surely have Kilkenny on a shortlist of operators that made the difference between Dublin being looked upon as a great team and one of the greatest in the history of the GAA.
By the time Gavin departs, only Mick O’Dwyer’s Kerry sides of yore will be perched alongside Dublin. And that is if Dublin have not managed to even supersede their standing in the history of the code in the meantime.
And you can rest assured it will be Kilkenny people of generations to come will hear about when this Dublin team is discussed.
And the really fascinating element of Kilkenny’s development as a leader of this team is that he is so self-aware of what exactly he can contribute to the group.
In a piece Cian Murphy wrote in the Irish Independent GAA supplement last Saturday, Kilkenny explained: “The great thing about Jim is he facilitates us to be better players. He wants us to drive this thing forward and we have a very motivated player group.
“It’s important to recognise between ’83-’95 and ’95-2011 nothing was won – so we are mindful we need to maximise this time as much as possible; keep learning, growing, facilitating players from underage teams and enable them to be better players, people, and leaders – and keep this Dublin thing going as long as possible.”
As long as Kilkenny remains injury-free, ‘this Dublin thing’ will continue for the foreseeable, at least.