It was during a post-match interview following the shock championship defeat to Wexford, the county’s first in 60 years, where Kieran Kingston expressed the belief that Cork hurling was in a “good place”.
They weren’t too many who shared this sentiment and truth be told, it was impossible to see where the Cork manager was coming from. 2016 had been nothing if not an annus horribilis for Cork
hurling. Five consecutive league defeats.
A limp Munster quarter-final display against Tipperary and then this, a first championship loss to Wexford since 1956, a game where Cork never once asserted themselves.
Kingston’s logic was tied to the development panel, a group kept very much under wraps, which management had been overseeing throughout their first year in the job.
It is a group that polished and primed Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Luke Meade, and Shane Kingston.
“I said last year that people, sometimes, only hear what they want to hear,” Kingston remarked.
“I said after the Wexford defeat that the future of Cork hurling was in a good place because there were really, really good lads coming through. Most people probably thought something was wrong with me, given the year we had at all levels. I believed in what I said.
“I still do.”
And off the back of a Munster title that nobody had anticipated, Cork hurling is, again, in rude health.
Throw in the U17 All-Ireland captured on Sunday and the minors’ form to date and that prognosis further improves.
Kingston, though, knows well this is a county judged by how it fares in September.
“This is a journey we are on. We are not where we would like to be. We are not the finished article. But we are trying to get there, bit by bit. We are trying to narrow that gap as quick as possible.
“Why Cork haven’t won an All-Ireland since 2005 is a broader debate. That has been spoken about; from strikes to lack of underage success, development squads or the lack of them. That has been put to the side over the last number of months because Cork teams have been successful.”
One of those successful afternoons which played its part in reshaping the conservation surrounding Cork hurling was July 9. Munster final day. As the final moments played out, Sportsfile photographer Brendan Moran snapped selector Diarmuid O’Sullivan tightly embracing Kingston as they waited for the final whistle to sound — a picture which perfectly captures the togetherness of this group.
“That comes with winning, I suppose,” says Kingston.
“It’s our second year working together, fellas get to know each other a bit better. In your first six or eight weeks in the job, you’ve 14 or 15 in the backroom team and then all of a sudden, you’re into the national league, you’re only getting to know each other and that obviously brings its challenges.
“The cohesiveness of the team, the same as any other group, in business or in families, develops over time. There’s a great unity among the players and certainly among the management too, which is very important.”
For management, there has been a balance to strike in approaching Kieran’s son, Shane, as just another cog in the wheel.
“It is probably more difficult on Shane than it is on me,” says the elder Kingston.
“You just got to get a balance. You don’t want to be seen to favour him in any way shape or form, which I wouldn’t do, and at the same time, you don’t want to go extra hard on him because of who he is. The rest of your management team have to be honest. They have to see him as another player, and they do. That is hugely important, more so than me. You have to separate it. You have to leave it in the dressing-room, you can’t bring it home.”
Surely, there’s no way the Kingston household is a hurling-free chat zone?
“You do your best to keep it away. Otherwise, he gets no break from it. He is only 19. From his point of view, you don’t want to be putting any more pressure on him than is already there. At times, of course, you would talk hurling, like any other family. But you try to keep a balance on it. My wife keeps a good balance on it. She just shuts it down.
“It was great for him and Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, and Luke Meade to taste Munster success at such a young age and having played only three championship games at that level for Cork.”
Accompanying young Kingston and Meade in attack is Patrick Horgan, the Glen Rovers man having surpassed the scoring record of Christy Ring this summer. In championship 2017 alone, the 29-year old has clocked 27 points.
“He has been a fantastic servant of Cork hurling for a decade. But, unfortunately, he just hasn’t got over the line in terms of national honours. It is disappointing for him because he is such a talent and he works so hard.”
Horgan was present when Cork last contested an All-Ireland semi-final in 2014, coming in as they do now — off the back of a five-week layoff. Kingston feels this element is overplayed.
“A lot is said about the five-week break and a lot is referred back to 2014 and that Cork mightn’t have handled it as well. If you look back at 2014, Cork trailed by two points at half-time having played poorly, with 11 wides, finished with 17 wides.
“That game was there to be won but, on the day, the performance wasn’t at the level required. We won’t be using the excuse of a five-week break if we don’t perform on the day, we’ll be honest.”
Kingston concluded: “We know going in that we have got to perform better than we have performed in the last three games. Teams are evolving all the time. They are improving that percentage every time they go out. Waterford have played three games since we played them last. We’ve had one. That brings them on a ton, plus their training, their confidence and the fact they are on a roll. We know if we don’t improve our performance, we won’t compete.”
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