Versatile Daniel Kearney embracing new defensive role with Sarsfields

Former Cork star 'can just pop up in any position' as he is reinvented as defensive anchor 
Versatile Daniel Kearney embracing new defensive role with Sarsfields

Daniel Kearney: I always felt I’d like the half-back position. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Pre-lockdown, we knew Daniel Kearney as either a midfielder or half-forward. But post-lockdown Daniel Kearney is neither.

He has, you see, been redeployed, entrusted with a new role and shirt number.

The 30-year-old lined out at centre-back during Sars’ Cork Premier SHC win over Midleton last Friday week, the first time in his club or inter-county career that he wore the number six jersey in a championship game.

Sars won, with Kearney turning in a fine performance as defensive anchor.

So, in this year of adjustment and new normal, how is he finding this particular change?

“When I play midfield, I like to sit a lot, so this position is in an area of the field where I am used to playing. I don't see centre-back as being a million miles away from the holding midfield position I would have played before,” Kearney reasons.

“I always felt I’d like the half-back position. The way teams go back the field, there is a lot of space in this area to play a lot of ball. Hopefully, I can build on the performance against Midleton and contribute as much as I can to the team's performance."

But given he was at wing-forward for Cork in recent seasons, he earned an All-Star nomination for his performances in the half-forward line in 2018, surely there is a change of mindset required when switching from score-getter to clamping down on the opposition attack.

“The way I play my game, I am more a utility player [than anything else]. I started off my very first game with Sars at corner-forward, but I also played corner-back for UCC in the Fitzgibbon. I am in that mould of a player where I can just pop up in any position, so I don't see it as being any different to even 2018 when I was half-forward.

"That season, I was still playing more of a roaming midfielder role but just a little higher up the pitch. Now I am playing a bit further back the pitch, but the skills and energy I am bringing to the game are still very much the same.”

After eight years with Cork, Kearney decided last winter to step away from the county panel for 2020. Explaining his decision to this newspaper back in January, he said: “Going back over the eight years I’ve had playing for Cork, I was always able to manage both, work and playing. But this new role [he is head of finance at IPL plastics in Little Island] will take up a lot more time and I’m also cognisant of putting more time into other stuff in my life like relationships as well.”

The truncated inter-county season brought about by Covid-19 has not led him to reconsider his decision. His position, he says, “is still the same”.

“I needed a break from the inter-county, and an extended break at that. Things change and who knows where my head will be at in three months' time, or six months' time, or nine months, but, at the moment, I am very happy playing for Sars,” remarked the three-time Munster medal winner.

A lack of inter-county commitments meant his training, games, and gym schedule had considerably lightened before the country entered lockdown in mid-March. The ensuing three-month break from all GAA activity he absolutely did not mind.

“The two or three months [before lockdown], I was enjoying having that bit more time back in my life to do other things. Then when Covid kicked in, it all stopped. The break was definitely a positive, just in terms of mental and physical freshness, and even from a hurling point of view, just getting your appetite back.

“Personally, I have been quite a number of years on the road, have been part of long campaigns with Sars and Cork, so just to get that pure break of no training, no nothing was positive.

“It was definitely a silver lining in the whole thing where you could just work off your own plan and kinda be selfish with your time. You weren't looking two or three days in advance to see what you had on. You could actually make limited plans in the controlled circumstances that were there, whereas in a normal training environment, you just can't make any plans really because you are tied to your Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday schedule. It was enjoyable to have your own time and your own plan.”

That said, he is of course delighted to be back inside the whitewash and doesn’t see the current crowd restrictions as taking from the games. He also maintains the GAA should run off the inter-county championships even if spectators are not permitted to attend.

“You can definitely feel the lack of atmosphere when you are walking into an empty ground, but when you are in the game, you block that stuff out anyway so it doesn't really affect me on the field.

“It is probably more the time after the game where you'd be socialising with members of the club say in the club bar. That's gone and is probably a bit harder to take.”

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