You might imagine that returning from seven years in America was the turning point in Kieran Bergin’s Tipperary career, or perhaps simply his re-dedication to the game of hurling since early last year.
Not so however.
In fact, if he gave you the entire Christmas break to guess the single thing that changed him from a run of the mill club player with Killenaule to a Championship starter last summer, chances are you still wouldn’t crack it.
The answer will be music to the ears of hurley makers nationwide.
“The big thing for me, and you’ll probably laugh, but I got rid of the plastic hurleys,” revealed Bergin.
“My hurling started to improve so much in the space of a couple of weeks, it wasn’t even funny. My first touch was just off with the hurleys and then the confidence grew and one thing led to another.”
A disclaimer first of all, some players swear by plastic hurleys. And after returning home in late 2011 after five years in New York and two in California, Bergin was drawn to the modern version of the caman because ash replacements were too expensive.
“The first day I took up the real hurleys again was before the UL (Fitzgibbon) game with the college, it would have been around the middle of February,” continued DIT student Bergin. “So about eight months ago. I saw the difference straight away. I’d only bought the new hurleys and it was nearly a case of picking them up before the game but straight away I was saying to myself, ‘what was I doing?’ I always thought with the plastic hurl, once the grip is off at all, when you hit them the ball swerves and your accuracy is gone. I know it’s only a small thing but I think it was probably the pivotal point of when my career changed.”
That day, Bergin noticed a vast improvement in his first touch, having struggled with it for months. Tipp senior selector Mike Ryan — as opposed to Tipp intermediate manager Mike Ryan — was at the game and liked what he saw. A couple of days after St Patrick’s Day, Bergin’s mobile phone rang and, at 27, a brand new chapter of an already storied life began.
“Someone told me Mike Ryan was watching me at the college game,” said Bergin. “I thought it was the senior Mike Ryan, which it was, but then the intermediate Mike Ryan rang me the week after and I was like, ‘ah, it must have been the intermediates (watching)’. So I took the foot off the pedal, went out on the beer for a few nights.
“The following Tuesday or Wednesday, it was only after Paddy’s Day, I’ll never forget it, I’d a hard weekend put in and Mike rang me. There was a bit of confusion. I was like, ‘Mike, I was only talking to you on the phone last week’. He kind of thought he was maybe confused himself, maybe he did call me the previous week! It took about five minutes to get to the bottom of it. Eventually anyway, he said to come in with the seniors. I think at the time I was lying on the couch with a bag of Maltesers and a bag of popcorn when I should have been in college. I said to myself, ‘get up you fat pig, you better go for a run’.”
Bergin made his Tipperary senior debut in the Allianz League final defeat to Kilkenny. He played the entire Munster championship clash with Limerick and his breakthrough season ended back at Nowlan Park when he came on as a half-time sub in the qualifier loss to the Cats. The funny thing is, when he first told clubmates that he’d been drafted in, they didn’t believe it was possible after a difficult first season back.
“A load of the boys on the club team didn’t believe me. They were like, ‘there’s no way you’ve got in there’. That’ll tell you how bad my first season with Killenaule was.”
The defender says he’s here for good now. He’s completing an Environmental Health degree at DIT which he put on hold years ago to travel. And he is fully committed to winning big with Tipp in the coming seasons.
“I think last season was a serious missed opportunity,” he claimed. “Small things down in Limerick and Kilkenny could have changed those results either way. I think the attitude is right this year and, mentally, we’re going to be a lot stronger.”
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