He may be out of consideration for the first couple of league games, but new Kilkenny captain Mark Bergin is relishing his second life with the Cats.
Dropped from the panel after picking up an All-Ireland medal in 2012, Bergin was recalled for the All-Ireland semi-final replay against Waterford last summer, and then his club, O’Loughlin Gaels, won the county championship.
“Looking back now, getting called back into the Kilkenny panel and starting against Waterford and then being lucky enough to win the club championship, it was a nice year.
“The Waterford game was a serious game, and one that we were lucky to win in the end.
“But it’s over now and a new challenge awaits. It’s very exciting that the league is starting again on Sunday and Waterford is going to be a huge challenge.”
Being cut from the Kilkenny panel, he says, was “no big deal”, but adds: “Obviously, you’re disappointed personally, but you just get back playing hurling, you get back enjoying it and seeing where it takes you. I was in a lucky position that I was on the panel in 2012 and won an All-Ireland, not too many people can say that. It’s nice to get back again and I’m enjoying it.”
The captaincy won’t bring any distraction.
“It’s just the way in Kilkenny, once you win the senior championship you’re nominated and it’s no real big deal. It changes nothing in terms of the Kilkenny set-up, you just go in and you work hard and there’s leaders there already. You’re not expected to do anything different — you’re just expected to work hard like every other panel member.
“I think the only difference is actually going up for the toss at the start of the match. Anything else, there’s no added stuff… You just think about yourself — to be honest, I’m just trying to think about getting back as quick as I can, get back training and playing and just adding to the panel.”
It’s more enjoyable now he’s had a spell in the wilderness.
“I was very young at the time (2012) and you probably think yourself that it’s the be all and end all as a young lad to play senior hurling for Kilkenny.
“When time’s up for you back then, you just have to get back enjoying it and doing the basics and you appreciate it a hell of a lot more, the time and effort that goes into it. It’s a great buzz off it, it won’t last forever, you don’t know when your time is up – through injury or whatever – so you just try and savour it and enjoy the hard work that it is and see where it gets you.”
What stays with him from 2016 is how good Tipperary were in the All-Ireland final: “They were absolutely outstanding on the day – I’d have zero complaints about the result or whatever. They were by far the better team on the day, but it was very hard to take.
“No team thinks about what’s going to happen in terms of losing, you go out to win it the same as Tipp did. So that’s all I remember – Tipperary were so, so good on the day and we weren’t able to live with it.”
The fact it was the Premier who inflicted the defeat didn’t make it any harder, he adds.
“No, to be honest, it’s losing to anyone, it’s an All-Ireland final, the prize is so big, it doesn’t make a difference who you’re playing.
“Tipperary are absolutely excellent, they’re great champions, but it’s over now and 2017 is a new year and I’m sure there’s new teams that are sitting there thinking they have a chance as well. There’s loads of teams there that can win it.
“We’re just taking it step by step now and it starts on Sunday here against Waterford.”
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