WHEN KILKENNY LIFTED the All-Ireland minor hurling title in 2014, Darragh Joyce was spearheading their challenge.
Operating at wing-back, he had the honour of grasping the silverware at the final whistle after Kilkenny had charged past Limerick.
Three years on and Joyce is in a different sporting space. He’s back home after a first season plying his trade in Australian Rules with St Kilda and their affiliate club Sandringham.
Returning to native soil affords him the chance to cheer on the Kilkenny U21 hurlers in Saturday’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland final against Limerick.
His Rower-Inistioge club mate Pat Lyng is captain of the side and hopes to maintain the tradition of success.
“He’s been supporting us well, he’s been getting onto me before every game wishing me luck and all, he’s keeping in touch,” says Lyng.
“I stayed in touch with him, he’s getting on well. I think he’s back home the last day or two, it’s their off season now. I’m sure he’ll go and support us on Saturday.
“It would be great for the club if we did win on Saturday. We’d have had the captain from the minor in 2014 and then the captain from the U21 so it’d be great.”
Last October Joyce hit 0-10 as Rower-Inistioge fell just short against O’Loughlin Gaels in their efforts to book a spot on Kilkenny county senior final day for the first time in 39 years.
A versatile operator, his club were robbed off a major talent when he moved to Australia to pursue a new sporting career.
“We do miss him with the club,” admits Lyng.
“You just have to get on. When he’s gone you have to prepare without him don’t you, play away. He is a serious loss. We’d love to have him but he’s getting on well over there. He really enjoys it now.
“I went to the same school as him in Good Counsel. I saw him a few times playing the football and when someone comes looking for you like that, it’s hard to turn down.
“If they came after me, I’d do the very same thing to be honest.”
Lyng is focused on emulating Joyce’s achievement in captaining a triumphant Kilkenny team. He got a taste of it early in the summer with the convincing Leinster final win over Wexford but has been hampered by injury since then and missed the landslide semi-final victory against Derry.
“I had a sore shin, but it’s getting better now and I should be grand. It was fairly sore now, kind of a stress reaction to the bone.
“It would have lead to a fracture if I kept going then so I just took a bit of time out. It was after the Wexford game, it just came at me, I was playing a club game and it came at me but it’s grand now again. Raring to go.”
The drive to succeed is fueled by the memories of last year’s campaign which came to an abrupt halt at the hands of Westmeath in a shock early result in Leinster.
“It was hard going home, hard to take,” reveals Lyng.
“We got together and said we have to put it right this year. We were taking no shortcuts this year. We were more nervous playing the Dublin game this year than anything because all the pressure was on us coming into it.
“We won the Dublin game, we were able to go out and express ourselves. I suppose U21 hurling in Kilkenny hasn’t been going well now for the last nine years since we won it so we just wanted to put it right this year.
“Hopefully we can after Saturday. It’s going to be a tough game. Limerick are very good opposition.”
* Pat Lyng was in Dublin to look ahead to this weekend’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 hurling finals in Semple Stadium on Saturday at 1pm and 3pm.
Fans unable to attend the game can catch all the action live on TG4 or can follow #HurlingToTheCore online.
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