Kieran Kingston has revealed an approach from a delegation of the 2019 Cork senior panel convinced him to return as manager.
After John Meyler confirmed his departure at the end of July, Kingston was contacted by hurlers with a mind to take the helm next season.
But for their support, Kingston admits he may not have come back. “Once John decided to step down, I suppose it was only then you started thinking about the position. But I certainly didn’t expect the opportunity would come up too soon. I did say afterwards that if I still had the hunger and the opportunity arose I would seriously consider it.
“First, I got an approach from the players to consider going back in. That was the first step. I spoke to them in terms of what they wanted and I listened to what they had to say. Then that was supported by an approach from the board and I listened to what they had to say in how they would support me, the appointment of Aidan (O’Connell, high performance manager) and the culture they are trying to create.
“After that then serious reflection commenced and I said: ‘Yeah, will I go back again?’ The players was the key one. Otherwise there was no point going back so soon to a group, many of them I had been with as a coach and a manager. The key decision was the collective approach from the players because I wouldn’t have gone back if that wasn’t forthcoming.”
Knowing so many of the outgoing squad is an advantage, Kingston believes.
“Bar the young guys that came through I haven’t worked with before, 85% of the squad I would have worked with. They know me, they know my style, I know them and I would have a good rapport with a number of them.”
Kingston also had to sound out his son and panel member Shane about taking over once more. “He has to be comfortable with it as well. My wife mightn’t be comfortable with it but he has to be comfortable with it as well! He’s the kind of character that is calm and doesn’t get rattled too much.
“He knows from the last time I was with him and the people I had around me that he is treated the same as every other player and I think the players and the management team I have see that as well. It was never an issue and I don’t see it as an issue going into the future.”
Despite claiming a Munster title in 2017, Kingston couldn’t stay on for a third season last year due to work constraints.
“I had very good reasons for it but there was always regret there: ‘Should I have done this or that? Maybe I didn’t finish what I started out.’
“The last year was hugely demanding, I was over and back to Germany a couple of times per month, and I just couldn’t sustain everything to the level that was required. Cork hurling is bordering a full-time position and it demands that, and if you can’t give that it’s not fair on anyone. You could stay on because it’s great to be there, but if you can’t put what’s required in, then you’re being very selfish. That’s something I wouldn’t do.”
His first year as manager wasn’t a picnic either as he absorbed the differences from the selector and then coach roles he had under Jimmy Barry-Murphy.
“When you step up as manager, you really don’t know what you don’t know. That’s the biggest challenge. It takes about a year with all these things coming at you, ye (media) guys and all that goes with that and you don’t realise that at the start.
“Anybody that you speak to in inter-county management, it’s one of the key challenges that you don’t know what you don’t know, and it can become a lonely place on the sideline when things aren’t going great.
“You’ve worn the tee-shirt. You know what’s involved and the plaudits and criticism that goes with it. You have to be prepared for that and learn the lessons from it, and ignore the stupid stuff and focus on what’s right for you and the group around you. Believe in what you’re doing and what the players are doing and keep that in-house. Keep the rest muted.”
From the Munster to the All-Ireland SHCs, he knows Cork have to string more performances together.
“That has been a problem in the past year, it was a problem before, it was a problem when I was involved: Consistency, not just game to game but consistency within games, and consistency from players within games and consistency from game to game.
“That is something there will be a huge focus on trying to eradicate over the next number of years. It is a problem for us and it has caused problems where we lose focus or we lose particular parts of a game where we’re well beaten and then you’re trying to recover from that.”
After the Munster Senior Hurling League, Cork face into a Division 1, Group 1 campaign next year, which will be slightly more relaxed than the previous cut-throat structure. Having said that, it’s the stronger of the two groups as Cork face Galway, Limerick, Tipperary, Westmeath and Waterford.
Kingston is glad of the opportunity to experiment. “It is very welcome because it’s starting that bit earlier now and your lead-in time of terms of doing some quality hurling is limited. In addition to that, the profile of many squads, and ours as well, is that you have many students.”