he ain't heavy

Life without Kilkenny after winning four All-Irelands and backing a brother chasing the AFL dream

Retired hurler Kieran Joyce is adjusting to life as a spectator.

RETIRED KILKENNY HURLER Kieran Joyce was deeply concerned for his county in the closing stages of their Leinster SHC opener against Dublin at the weekend.

Littlewoods Ireland All-Ireland Hurling Championship Launch Kieran Joyce is an ambassador for Littlewoods Ireland. Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

Pat Girloy’s side controlled much of the game and were five points in front with five minutes of normal time to go before Liam Blanchfield clinched a Kilkenny win with an injury-time goal.

Joyce knows that his former teammates will be happy to come away with the result but he can identify areas in their play that need to be addressed before they take on Offaly in the next stage of the round-robin competition.

Having played a prominent role in Kilkenny’s defence for much of his inter-county career, the concession of three goals in Parnell Park last weekend is one thing that immediately captures his attention.

Joyce is still adjusting to the spectator’s role after announcing his retirement from Kilkenny last October at 30 years of age with four All-Irelands to his credit.

Kieran Joyce Kieran Joyce. Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

He made the decision to step away after a brief conversation with Brian Cody, on the back of a championship campaign that didn’t afford him much game time.

Cody is renowned for keeping sentiment out of the equation when having those discussions with players who are coming to the end of their careers, and Joyce was no different. The situation was unlikely to improve for him, prompting the Rower-Inistioge clubman to take his cue and exit stage left.

Joyce came through the pre-season period without much of a desire to return the fold, but watching Kilkenny line out against rivals Tipperary in the National League sent some old familiar feelings rushing back to him.

I miss that, especially at home playing Tipperary, it was a great match.

“Obviously in the summer now, you know how they set up. They’re playing in Nowlan Park in the evenings. To be playing in those pitches and facilities is different to playing at home with your club but you’d miss obviously the miss the banter with the lads.

“From my point of view, I didn’t feature much in the championship last year after that Wexford match [in the Leinster championship]. I spoke to Brian about it and kind of knew I wouldn’t be featuring much going forward again.

Paul Morris and Lee Chin tackle Kieran Joyce Kieran Joyce in action for Kilkenny against Wexford in 2017. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s a massive commitment to make and it’s not being selfish but if you don’t think you’re going to feature much going forward, you’re better off stepping aside and letting the newer lads coming in take over.”

He added:

It probably helped that they aren’t as dominant [at the moment]. If they were making All-Irelands year-in-year-out, you’d probably love to stay there and go with that.

“2016 was a big reset for us because we were fairly comprehensively beaten in the final. We all came back the following year and knew we had to get back up there again. But obviously the way we set-up against Wexford didn’t help us either and we went through the qualifier route then.

“If we had a couple more minutes in that Waterford match, we could have been there again. But would it have been a fair reflection of where we are, probably not.”

Darragh Joyce and Seamus Keating Darragh Joyce at the AFL Europe Combine Practice Match in 2015. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Joyce’s younger brother Darragh is into his second season with the St Kilda club in Australia, and is currently plying his trade in the VFL [Victorian Football League].

He has ambitions of progressing into the first team this year for a shot at the AFL, and a concussion to one of their players Paddy McCartin could create an opportunity for him to reach that target.

McCartin however, could be nearing a return soon.

Joyce spent a summer in America back in 2010 before fully immersing himself in the Kilkenny cause, and he knows how getting away from the inter-county circuit can benefit the development of a player.

“It gives you kind of a reset and a renewed love for hurling,” he says.

So when the opportunity to experience a professional sport in Australia was presented to his sibling, he advised him to take a chance and back himself.

“I said to him that he had an opportunity to be a professional, to go to Australia for two years minimum.

“I said, ‘look if you come back, you’ll still be only 22 or 23 and if you want to make the Kilkenny team then you can still make it.’ I told him if I was in his position I’d go for it. No matter what happens, it’ll stand to you.

Not too many lads in Kilkenny get an opportunity like that so I think he had his mind made up but he probably needed reassurance from us that he was doing the right thing.

“For some people, it doesn’t work out because you are so far away from family but lucky enough we have family over in St Kilda from my mother’s side so that helps. And they fly our parents over once a year so it kind of breaks up the year for him as well.”

Darragh is an All-Ireland winner with Kilkenny, after captaining the minors to success in 2014. His older brother would love to see him repeat that feat with the seniors and is confident that he would be in with the team at the moment if circumstances were different.

Darragh Joyce lifts the cup Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

“From a club perspective, he’d be phenomenal. You’d love to see it but if he makes it in the big leagues with St Kilda’s, for him that’s fantastic. Either way, I think it would be a bonus for him. Hopefully, he will come back at one stage and maybe do a Tadhg Kennelly on it. That would be very special.

Through Snapchat and Whatsapp and that kind of thing, you probably see the life you want to live. He’d be sending pics on a Monday morning going to physio or going to the pool or going to yoga or Pilates.

“He loves it and he’s hoping to get another contract, he’s contract is up at the end of this year so he’ll hopefully get another two or three-year contract.

“He probably knows himself if he doesn’t make it in the next year or two that it probably won’t work out.”

Offaly have already spooked Kilkenny in 2018, coming up just two points short of Cody’s charges in the Division 1 quarter-final back in March. They put up an encouraging display against Galway last weekend and Joyce is expecting a physical encounter to unfold at Nowlan Park this Sunday.

But he thinks his side will have enough in the tank to survive the battle.

The Leinster and All-Ireland champions Galway await them in the next round, a tie that will offer a strong indication of where Kilkenny stand against the major contenders for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

“They’d love the opportunity to get a scalp on us. To a certain extent, people don’t fear Kilkenny anymore . Obviously, the dominance is not there as much but they have nothing to lose.

“If Shane Dooley turns up on his day and gets the right, he could do some serious damage but I’d expect them to pull away. Galway then will be the big test then.”

Kieran Joyce was in Dublin to launch Littlewoods Ireland’s #StyleOfPlay campaign.

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