The “massive demands” being placed on young inter-county players have yet to take their toll on Shane Kingston. And it’s unlikely they will do so into the future, for here’s a 20-year old who’s listening to his body, who’s learned the hard way that to do anything otherwise is foolish in the extreme.
Part of the Cork senior hurling camp for the past two years, Kingston has been ever-present for the Cork seniors during that time. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of his Douglas club-mates whose inter-county careers have been stalled or blighted because of injury.
Seán Powter, nominated for young footballer of the year in 2017, has been sidelined since tearing his hamstring seven months ago, while Alan Cadogan and Kevin Flahive are rehabbing knee injuries. This spate of casualties led the club’s football manager, Mick Evans, to express concern that the excessive workload on inter-county players is leading to “life-altering” injuries.
He gave such notice following his side’s championship win over Dohenys a fortnight ago, a fixture where the club had to make do without six of their seven inter-county players.
Kingston, between a torn hamstring at 14 and a broken fibula at 17, spent a decent chunk of his teenage years recovering from injury setbacks and is ever-mindful of the toll being taken on his body through involvement with the Cork U21s and seniors.
Tipperary U21 manager Liam Cahill weighed into this discussion earlier this week when warning of the “massive demands” on young inter-county players.
“Hurling is now a pace-driven game. A lot of the game is built on speed and movement. It is very demanding on the body. Little niggles here and there, and you are in trouble,” said Cork U21 captain Kingston.
“A little niggle and you are out for a week or two. Then trying to come back up to that level is another week or two. You have to keep the body fresh because it is so demanding. The young fellas are trying to balance college with that; the older fellas work. It is hard.
“It is important to get your recovery in, get the right amount of sleep, food and hydration, and take a break when you have to and when the season is over.
“In Douglas, when we were younger and playing with St Francis College, Rochestown, there was one year, 2015, we got to the Cork colleges senior hurling and football finals (O’Callaghan Cup and Simcox Cup), and the Munster hurling and football finals (Harty Cup and Corn Uí Mhuirí). That was the year everyone started breaking down because we got to two club finals after that. Powter was out for a few months with his quad. I broke my leg. Lads were doing their shoulders. It does take its toll.”
Kingston knew he was heading down a dangerous road before his father, former Cork manager Kieran, stepped in and lessened the risk of injury and burn-out.
“When I was growing up, I was playing on a scandalous amount of teams between hurling, football, and soccer, across school, club, division, and county. I was playing on 15 or 16 teams as you were playing above your age, as well. Then I just called it. I would write out my schedule each week.
“My parents would say, ‘You can do that, you can’t do this’. Thankfully, I had my parents guiding me. Other lads wouldn’t. They’d pick up big injuries at that age. It is very hard, but we’ve learned our lessons over the years.
“I have had a structure on it since I was around 14. In first or second year of school, I had a scandalous amount of games one week. I just had a ridiculous amount of stuff on and I ended up pulling my hamstring at 14. My old man started calling it, then. I packed in soccer. You’d lose your appetite for it and you’d just burn out otherwise.”
The UCC economics and computer science student, who clipped 1-12 for the Rebel seniors this summer, was a reluctant spectator at Sunday’s decider in Croker.
“It was hard to watch. You’d love to be involved. At the end of the day, Limerick beat us fair and square. We were six points up and didn’t hold our lead. They fought to the end and got the win. They were deserving on the day.”
Eleven of Limerick’s starting team had at least one All-Ireland U21 medal in the drawer before adding to their collection at the weekend. Kingston knows this is the path he and his U21 colleagues must tread, even if they’ve so far been unsuccessful in managing underage honours.
“Last year, Limerick beat us in the Munster U21 final and went on to win the All-Ireland. At their minor age in 2014, they got to the All-Ireland final. So the majority of them, the Cian Lynchs and so on, they got to a minor final, won an U21 and now they have a senior, so you can see it progresses.
“I have never won anything underage with Cork, be it U14, U15, U16, two years’ minor, football, as well. This is my last ever underage game. If we deserved something previously, we would have got it. It is up to us to try and win something, to do the best we can and try and win an All-Ireland.”