Ten years ago Tom Kenny was facing a choice.
He was on the periphery of the Cork senior hurling and football squads but felt a breakthrough was closer with the footballers. At a hurling session in Fermoy he decided to tell Donal O’Grady and his selectors he’d be playing football that weekend.
“Before I could tell them John [Allen] said, ‘you’ll be starting this weekend against Tipperary in Thurles’. It was a nice feeling on the way home from Fermoy that night.”
He survived, O’Grady encouraged him and the colleges star with Farranferris scorched through his first season as an inter-county hurler, that smooth, effortless pace becoming his hallmark. Did he detect a slight deceleration recently?
“There wasn’t a moment, or a game, but you might be doing sprints in training, or trying to catch someone, and you know,” says Kenny. “You can tell. Growing up speed was always an asset, in football and hurling, and when I got possession I’d get on my bike, but going back wing-back probably suited me last couple of years, because midfield is a place where I always felt you had to take the game to your opponent.”
He doesn’t think it’s out of the question to play both codes at the top level: “It’s always easier to go from hurling to football. One football session, kicking around, and you have your eye in. Going the other way, your eye is slower coming in to hurling from football. You need to hurl the whole time.
“Is it feasible? I think it still is, but the difficulty is back door games and so on, and the number of football games in particular. You have to mind yourself, have understanding managers, and you need a bit of luck on your side too to manage it.
“Conditioning and strength work have become huge factors in the modern game. You could say it’s because I’m pushing on, maybe, but when I was starting we might have trained twice a week and done the odd gym session, but now players are very good athletes, very toned, and it’s year-round. Last January we were training with Cork Monday and Wednesday in the gym, Tuesdays and Thursdays on the pitch. Full whack.”
On the field things have changed, but as Kenny points out, that’s a constant.
“Tactics evolve. Kilkenny had their way of playing, Clare have come with a fast game, not dissimilar to the way Cork played ten years ago. But a team could come next year with a different plan, that could win them the All-Ireland.
“Highlights? 2004, obviously, getting back to the final after losing the year before. Beating Galway in 2008 when Donal Óg [Cusack] was sent off. Beating Kilkenny this year was another. We’d come out of a Munster final when we hadn’t done ourselves justice, they weren’t going well... the satisfaction was because we hadn’t beaten them in eight or nine years.
“There were great games against Waterford, too, where you were probably told what to do going out but then everyone went and played away once they were on the field.”
There were strikes along the way too. When the hurlers needed leaders Kenny didn’t hide, but he feels everyone has moved on since:
“I’ve met plenty of people since and we’ve talked as though it never happened.
“There were a lot of column inches about it at the time but I think everyone had Cork’s best interests at heart at the time. Relationships are getting better and hopefully in the future young lads can see what it means to play for Cork, and when they’re invited in that it takes precedence over going away for a summer or anything else.”
There are a couple of regrets. He’s too honest to say otherwise.
“Take 2007 and the Waterford game in Croke Park. We were a point up, I was marking Eoin McGrath and got sucked up field at the very end. He got the ball and I thought, ‘he’ll pop this over for the draw’, but he went for goal. Donal Óg saved the shot but they got a harsh enough free for the draw.
“In 2003 Tommy Walsh gave the me the run-around for the next 15 minutes, but that wouldn’t be my big regret there. Towards the end of the first-half that day I let the ball into Setanta rather than going for my own score off my left. If I’d scored that...
“I’ve no league medal, and I’d have liked one of those. In general you’d like a couple more medals, but look, I played in five or six All-Ireland finals. How many players get to say that?”
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