JOE talks to Conal Keaney about this season, dual players, Sky and covering 12 kilometres in a game
We caught up with Dublin hurler Conal Keaney for a chat about this season, trying to combine hurling and football and the fitness demands made of an inter-county player these days.
Thanks to a rejuvenated Kilkenny winning the league title, a Tipperary side on the march and Clare’s remarkable success last year, there hasn’t been an awful lot of talk about Dublin in terms of the shake-up for Liam McCarthy this season.
Anthony Daly’s men needed to win a relegation play-off to maintain their Division 1A status and with their first Championship clash a while away yet, they’ve been flying under the radar in 2014 so far.
The Dubs are the reigning Leinster Champions, however and definitely merit consideration amongst the teams capable of going all the way this season and ahead of their Leinster semi-final next month, we caught up with Conal Keaney for a chat about their prospects this season.
Conal was good enough to give us his views on the upcoming campaign and the Sky GAA deal and also gave us interesting insights about the demands on dual players and the amount of ground covered in a single game by inter-county athletes in this day and age. It’s a lot…
JOE: The Dubs aren’t out in the Championship for the guts of another month yet Conal but how have preparations been going so far?
Conal Keaney: Preparations are going grand. We had a bit of a change this year where we took three weeks back with the club to play two rounds of the Championship so we’re only really getting back into the swing of things.
There’s always a little bit of lull after you go back to the county set-up having been with the club for a while and we’re only really back a week or so and just trying to get back up to speed. We’ve a bit of time until the first game yet so we’re lucky enough that we don’t have any major injures so we can get a few niggles out of the way and we’ve a few challenge games lined up so it’s going well at the minute four or five weeks out from Championship.
JOE: There’s a new set-up in the Leinster Championship this year with the qualifier group. Would you be a fan of it and do you think it will ultimately benefit the weaker teams in that they’ll be more battle-hardened facing into a game against some of the stronger sides in the province?
CK: I think there’s arguments for both sides. I’ve heard that the Antrim and Carlow management teams were coming out and saying that maybe it’s not great for them but I think any game you get in Championship is good. Certainly I know from our experience that we’d prefer to have a game rather than going straight into the semi-finals.
Last year, when we had a couple of games before the Leinster Final, it was more of a benefit you know. League is league but championship always has a bite to it no matter who you’re playing. It’s very hard to know how the qualifier group will work out but it’s not going to affect us because we’re straight into the semi-finals.
JOE: You’d rather the build-up you had last year with the replays against Wexford and Kilkenny before going into the Leinster Final?
CK: Yeah, last year in the first game we were lucky to get out of it with a draw and every game we played after that, we got better and better and I think it’s the same for most teams. The more games you get in Championship the better you’ll be and you’ll probably find that the teams that have more games will go on and probably win it.
The Dubs benefitted from being battle-hardened going into last year's Leinster Final victory over Galway
The old days where Kilkenny would play four games and win the All-Ireland are dying because you’re coming up against teams that are battle-hardened from a lot of games on the road and they know their team. A lot of it has to do with form, but I certainly would prefer more games in the Championship even if there’s nothing we can do about it this year as far as we’re concerned anyway.
JOE: It’s not going to be easy to retain the Leinster title this year Conal, have you been impressed with what you’ve seen of the other challengers so far?
CK: There’s nothing there that we don’t already know to be honest. Kilkenny are Kilkenny; they’re regrouping again after a disappointing end to the season last year and look like they’re coming back as strong as ever. Wexford have maybe been indifferent in recent years but judging by the results they’ve had in the last few challenge games they seem to be on the up and we played Offaly in a challenge at the weekend and there was only a couple of points in it.
You know what you’re going to get from majority of teams in Leinster and there’s not a whole lot between lots of the teams. People think Kilkenny are way ahead of everyone at the minute but I wouldn’t look too far into it; it’s all set up to play for but we can only concentrate on the winners of Wexford and the winners of the so-called weaker group so there’s no point getting bogged down in anything else.
JOE: In the Championship as a whole, last year was one of the best and most open in years but would you say that this year has the potential to be even more open because, as you said, Kilkenny are getting stronger, Tipperary seem to be getting stronger and the likes of Cork or Clare should be there or thereabouts?
CK: Yeah I think so; I think five or six, if not even more teams, will think they have a chance of winning the Liam McCarthy Cup. In previous years teams were happy just to get to a provincial final or to win their province but most teams that are there now want to win the All-Ireland and that can only add to it. No team is invincible like Kilkenny were maybe five or six years ago but every team can be beaten on the day.
JOE: From your own perspective Conal, you played in the half-back line at the start of the Championship last year before being moved into the half-forward line and you were even tried at full-forward during the league. Does the constant switching have any effect on your own performances and if you had to pick a favourite position, what would you say it would be?
CK: I think you can look for excuses for not performing and it’s easy to look at being switched around or not being switched around but I think anyone that’s playing, all players at this stage at inter-county level are versatile and can play in any position relatively speaking.
I wouldn’t look at that for an indicator as to whether I’m on form and if I’m not playing well it’s not because I’m being switched around. I wouldn’t be looking for easy answers because it doesn’t make much difference.
I like having a free role at wing-forward, but you need to cover a lot of ground. It’s pretty much similar to the wing forward role in football nowadays; you need to be in the backs and the forwards, you need to get up and down and that’s expected of you. Whether I’m able to do that I don’t know, we haven’t got into that Championship pace yet but time will tell!
JOE: We know you’ve worked with him before Conal so you’re probably familiar with the stats that Ray Boyne puts up regularly on Twitter, including one about the amount of ground covered by GAA players compared to athletes in other sports. How much of a role do stats and information like that play in your preparation and the analysis of your performances?
CK: I think every team is heavily into the stats and different areas like video analysis these days, albeit when we were with Ray Boyne with the Dublin footballers a few years ago we were probably a little bit ahead of the curve.
Every team is doing it now and I think everyone is aware how important it is. Gone are the days when you have to get 1-3 or 1-4 to say you had a good game; you might not score but if you can allow other players to develop, to blossom and to score then you’re doing a job as well.
— Ray Boyne (@AnalysisGAA) April 30, 2014
How Conal's daily routine compares to the routines of athletes in other sports (he has to work as well)
Everyone has a role on the team and managers are clever to reward lads for tackling, for work rate or for whatever it is. Everyone gets their goals before they go out in a game to try and target and it is all part of the game now you know.
JOE: Ray said that the average for Men’s GAA was 11.7km per game. Would you say you genuinely cover that distance in a game or was Ray just being kind?!
CK: I would say in Championship in Croke Park you’d easily cover that. Yeah, you would. A half-forward, a half-back or a midfielder is definitely covering that ground, all you need to do is watch players and you’ll see them pop up in the full-back line one minute and then for a score in the full-forward line the next.
They do cover the ground and it’s got to the stage now where they’re expected to cover the ground. They have to and if they don’t, someone else will come in and do the job for them. The game has progressed so much, it’s getting a lot faster so you have to be able to keep up with the pace of the game and support the lads inside as well as doing your defensive duties too.
JOE: It’s been a while since you made your decision now Conal, but with the footballers looking so strong and including a lot of lads you would have played with, do you ever cast any envious glances their way?
CK: No, I wouldn’t be like that at all. I think it’s well deserved. They put in a lot of hard work to get to this stage, not just this management but previous managements all the way through. You don’t just get a squad as strong as the Dublin one is now in a couple of years, there has been years and years of work put in and it’s great to see it. It’s probably going back to the stage now where people don’t want Dublin to win the All-Ireland in the football now which was certainly the case years ago.
Great credit to them, but everyone is making them hot favourites for the All-Ireland already which is mad. They might have a great squad but it wasn’t too long ago when the Dubs were hotly tipped for Leinster titles and things didn’t always happen the way they were supposed to but it’s all set-up for a great year.
JOE: Do you see them being beaten?
CK: There are a couple of teams that could beat them. Dublin have been obviously putting up huge scores but they’ve been leaking a good few scores too so you have to be mindful of that too, you know. It’s gone right for them so far this year and it has enabled them to get victories.
They won the league but they were lucky to even get to the semi-final and it took a Diarmuid Connolly monster shot (against Tyrone) to get them there. It all can change so quickly. People are building them up and it’s easy to get carried away but it’s going to be a great achievement if Dublin can come back this year and do it again.
It’s very hard to retain the All-Ireland title, as we’ve seen for many years. The hype machine will start cranking up as soon as you get closer to Championship as well but I’m sure they’re well aware of it and well experienced now to be able to deal with it at this stage.
JOE: You mentioned Diarmuid Connolly there and by all accounts he lit up the Dublin Senior Hurling Championship for St. Vincent’s recently. Would he have what it takes to adapt to inter-county hurling immediately?
CK: I think Diarmuid is a pure athlete and he’s really good at both codes but there’s a big difference between playing club hurling and inter-county hurling; it’s a huge difference. I’m not saying that he wouldn’t be able for it, I think he’d be well able for it, but he has his own objectives for the next few years. He’s doing really well at the football so I wouldn’t be putting pressure on him to change codes because I think it’s impossible to do it. To be successful at the top level, it’s impossible to play both.
JOE: Aidan Walsh in one of a few players who have decided to try both codes this year; do you think it will be difficult for them to succeed?
CK: I’m not saying it can’t be a success but it’s very hard to be successful in both codes. You certainly need to have a lot of things going your way. You have to be young, you have to have the right lifestyle, you have to have the right job or be in college and you have to have the right managers in charge of both teams.
Keaney reckons it's extremely difficult for dual players like Aidan Walsh to succeed in both codes
There are a lot of things that have to fall your way for you to be able to do it and even at that, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be able to perform at the highest level in both codes. If things go your way and if you can stay injury-free then it can work but it’s extremely hard to produce in inter-county Gaelic football and hurling in the same season.
JOE: Finally Conal, I’m sure it’s not the first time you’ve been asked this lately but what do you make of the Sky GAA deal? Would you see it as a good thing or would you have any concerns at all?
CK: I think anyone new coming in is good, what RTE have done in the last couple of years has been great but a bit of competition is only going to benefit the public. I think with Sky coming in you only have to look at what they’ve done with sports in England be it Rugby League, the Premier League. Tennis, Golf; they’ve really made it attractive to the public.
I think our games are great so the more people that know about it the better and between Sky and RTE I think it’s set up to be a great season.
JOE: Have you been tapped up to appear as a guest pundit at all?
CK: Ha! No, not at all. I’m still playing so there’ll be none of that this year
JOE: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Conal and all the best with the rest of the season.
CK: No problem, cheers.
Conal Keaney helped launch AIG’s Dublin Jersey Promotion at Parnell Park today. AIG is rewarding customers who take out a new car or home insurance policy from www.aig.ie or on 1890 27 27 27 with a free kids’ Dublin jersey, or €40 off an adults’ Dublin jersey. The offer runs from May 19th to June 30th. Vouchers are supplied by AIG and redeemable on the O’Neills’ website before July 31st.