Cillian Buckley: ‘I can’t think of any better day in my life’

Week 36. It’s the first Sunday in September but it’s always in or around week 36 of the year. The longest seven days for Cillian Buckley.

As it was in 2010 when he captained the minors to All-Ireland glory, as it was in 2012 and last year.

That’s not mentioning the anxiety of waiting for the ’12 and ’14 replays but he’s a dab hand at killing time now, this latest interval causing the 23-year-old little or no fuss.

“Even going back as far as my minor days, you see these All-Ireland finals coming and you nearly put yourself in a corner, in a way you are nearly dreading the day coming, as much as you don’t want it to end, it’s a weird sensation, to be honest.

“But the more of these All-Ireland days you get, the better and now I’m just really looking forward to the day. The week of the game can drag on but I’ve been through enough of them at this stage and the Kilkenny team have been through enough of them as well.” Nowlan Park behind closed doors becomes a haven for the likes of Buckley in the build-up to finals. Working across the Tipperary border as a manufacturing engineer in Boston Scientific brings with it its own comfort away from the crowds but within the confines of the stadium there is a sense of tranquillity as there is purpose.

“You’ve trained with these guys since last January so you know the effort they have put in. You nearly feel a comfort from being in around these lads. It’s definitely an exciting time for people out in Kilkenny but it’s not easy listening to the different opinions of people and the different thoughts that go into pre-match talk before All-Ireland finals. “You have to try and distance yourself from that as much as possible. We have a job to do.” Galway players have to deal with unaccustomed hype; Kilkenny have to contend with, to paraphrase Patrick Kavanagh, the wink and elbow language of expectation.

Buckley’s learned to insulate himself from it all.

“The odd evening I have off from training with Kilkenny, it’s nothing too strenuous but I might go into the gym and take my mind off things. I’ll get out on the bike, staying active to be honest, because sitting around you find your mind drifting and you’d drive yourself mad thinking about the match.“It’s just about trying to keep yourself busy whatever way you can. There are no secrets.” Of the new faces introduced to the Kilkenny team for the 2012 All-Ireland replay against Galway, it was Walter Walsh who grabbed the headlines but Buckley, named at wing forward, gave a fine account of himself in the middle. Making his first championship appearance, Walsh had also attracted most attention prior to throw-in but Buckley was too beginning his first final.

“It was a tense occasion but thankfully with the replay I got the chance to cut loose in the three weeks leading up to the replay and thankfully I managed to get in on the day and we came out the right side of it.

“I think Brian laid out to us after the drawn match that there were places up for grabs and you did believe it when he laid down that challenge. We knew he was starting from a clean slate. I decided to myself that if I did get the chance I would kind of enjoy it. I was thrilled. I had played against Galway in the Leinster final and didn’t do myself justice that day so I was thrilled to get a second chance at it in the replay.” Kilkenny, Buckley knows, will have to bring their own brand of fire to match Galway’s. As excellent as Buckley has been this year (he remains an outside contender for hurler of the year), he will likely be duelling aerially with a man at least two or three inches taller than him.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that Galway are one of the biggest, most physical teams in the country. So why not use it to their advantage? It’s definitely part of the game in football and hurling and from playing them over the years they definitely have that physical presence on the field. I’m sure they will try use that to their advantage in the All-Ireland final but it’s something we have to match on the day. You have the likes of Johnny Glynn, Joe Canning, Iarla Tannian, they are all huge men. Their aerial presence alone brings a challenge. You’ll just have to take these guys on because if you stand back off these lads they’ll punish you.”

Buckley has the scars from that 2012 Leinster final but there are no fresh marks. He and Kilkenny have kept ahead of the Tribe’s curve. “You set goals at the start of the year, of course you want to be in the team, of course you want to be in the panel but when you win it’s a fierce sense of unity. Winning All-Irelands, no matter what involvement you have is a fierce special feeling. For me, to win one, I can’t think of any better day in my life so I just hope that in 2015 I can do it all over again.” Five September All-Ireland finals thus far and no defeats, Buckley’s wait has not yet been in vain.

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