Michael Kennedy earned his 50th cap with the Irish lacrosse team at the 2015 World Indoor Championships. He also serves as CEO of Ireland Lacrosse, which is seeking official Sport Ireland recognition for the sport...
Kennedy grew up in New York, where he took up lacrosse at the age of 12. However, he was sent to a private high school, which didn’t have a lacrosse team. He tried to set up a team, but couldn’t get the school to commit the funding. He came to UCD in 2004, having not played for years, and jumped at the opportunity to get involved with the burgeoning Ireland set-up. That summer, he made his international debut in the European Championships.
Q: You retired from lacrosse four years ago only to return to the Irish jersey in 2015. Are you happy you made that decision?
Absolutely! I retired because I felt I had to. I had played for quite a number of years and I thought there were other lads coming through who wanted the chance to play for the Irish team, but, in the end, I just love the game and this year was an opportunity to play where the game originated on this Native American- Indian reservation lands. It totally lived up to my expectations.
Q: Did you feel the effects of not playing for a few years?
Fitness-wise, I put in a lot of extra preparation. Even though I was older, I was fitter than I had been for previous tournaments. I was feeling fantastic and I played well, personally, but also the team did very well. We beat Australia and the Czech Republic, who were ranked higher than us going into the tournament, and Germany and Serbia too. The whole team performed really well, so it was great to be part of it.
Q: You played in the World Indoor Championships this year. Is that much different to field lacrosse?
The indoor version of the game is actually played on a converted ice-hockey rink and tends to be more popular in Canada. It’s six-a-side and, because the ball doesn’t go out of bounds, as such, and the rules are slightly different, it’s more physical. I justified to myself that putting a relatively inexperienced player in the national team, who might have taken a roster spot over me, actually could be dangerous, because there’s nowhere to hide in indoor lacrosse. It’s a lot like ice hockey. You do need to know what you’re doing, so I was able to use my experience of the game to adapt to it.
Q: Does lacrosse get compared to hurling often? Americans often seem to make the link.
Yeah, I often describe it to people as a mix between hurling and ice hockey. That’s probably the most accurate description of the hand-eye coordination and the physicality of it. The major difference from hurling is that you have a lot of extra equipment in lacrosse. You have the stick, helmet, shoulder pads, arm pads and gloves and, as a result, it’s a lot more physical, but we always get comparisons — hand-eye coordination is very transferable between the two sports — and we definitely recruited some former or current hurlers to give lacrosse a try as well.
Q: Does that help to make Ireland an international lacrosse superpower?
That might be a little bit of a stretch! It definitely does help and a lot of the players we’ve recruited would’ve been hurlers. I’d say, as a country, we punch above our weight, moreso because we draw our players from throughout the Irish diaspora. Lacrosse is quite popular in the US and Canada and there’s a lot of people with Irish heritage in the US and Canada who are eligible for an Irish passport, so, our general policy for all of our national teams is that 51% of the roster must be players based here in Ireland, but 49% of each national team roster can be players from outside of Ireland. Our two top players who were on the indoor team this past September, Stephen Kehoe and Andrew McBride, who was the captain, both play professionally in Canada and have done so for a number of years.
Q: Why did you make the leap from playing to administration?
Taking on the role as CEO, I’ve been driven by the fact that I was denied the opportunity to play in secondary school when I was younger and, in a way, that’s what drives me to make the sport available in Ireland now. The fact that I’m still playing... it’s a bit like I’m making up for lost time after not being able to play when I was younger.
Q: How does the sport in 2015 compare to when you started with Ireland in 2004?
Back in 2004, there was nobody playing. At that European Championship, there were only five people on that team who actually lived in Ireland, and only one born-and-bred Irish guy, so, after that, we set up a club and gradually we spread the word. Next summer, we’re introducing a men’s U19 team, so that’s evidence that we’re getting to that youth level.
Q: How do you plan to grow the game among the younger generation?
We’re trying to introduce it in secondary schools now. One of our domestic directors attended a PE Association of Ireland annual conference in Dundalk in October and delivered some training on how to teach lacrosse. We’re getting some schools contacting us for equipment and coaching, now. We’ve introduced a coaching development programme, so we can train some of our players to deliver coaching to new teams. We’re trying to put all those pieces in place to properly develop our programmes.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge to developing the sport?
As with anything, it’s funding. Lacrosse can be a bit expensive, because of all the equipment and there’s no shop in Ireland that sells lacrosse equipment, so, our national governing body acts as a shop. We get equipment donations or purchase in bulk from European suppliers, so, we can offer it to clubs and individual players on a discounted basis, making it accessible to people. Time is a major issue, too. I’m the CEO of Ireland Lacrosse, but it’s totally voluntary and everyone on our executive board do this in our free time.
Q: What is your ultimate career goal?
Personally, I like to think that by the time I’m at retirement age from my current job at UCD, I might be able to go into a full-time paid position as Lacrosse Ireland CEO. That’s just my ambition, whether I get there or not, who knows?
The Irish Lacrosse League (ILL) season opens next Saturday, January 30 with its first Gameday event in Belfast.
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