Sean Griffin sat down with Cillian Buckley to discuss all things Kilkeeny GAA anf Fitzgibbon Cup

Cillian, mind a fourth year student of Biomedical Engineering, now has two senior All-Ireland medals to his name, having won his second just last week in Kilkenny’s defeat of Tipperary. It took two collisions of these goliaths and 140 minutes of hurling to separate the two sides. In fact, in the dying moments of the first game, John O’ Dwyer of Tipperary came within inches of earning the Premier county their first title since 2010. Cillian was standing right below the post as the sliotar dropped in and so had the comfort of knowing what the Hawk Eye system would confirm for the rest of us, agonising moments later.

We all witnessed the gripping moments during the matches and the outpouring of emotion from fan, coach and player alike at the culmination of the two games; be it relief in the first or elation and devastation in the second, depending on the colour of your jersey. It was that elation, in the dressing room after the match, surrounded by the extended panel and backroom staff, which he picks as his standout moment of the day.

Along with the three other UCD students involved in the Kilkenny panel; Willie Phelan, Joe Lyng and Walter Walsh, he commuted back and forth between training and University two to three times a week. Nine months of training, January to September, goes into winning an All-Ireland, no time for holidays.  Although, it’s clear that it is no regret for the Dicksboro man; “when you’re rewarded after winning an All-Ireland final it makes it all worthwhile”.

When asked about the Cats’ closest scrapes during this year’s championship, it is to the games against Galway and that first Tipperary match that he points, the narrow win over Limerick in conditions of biblical proportions loses out. In his own words, Kilkenny were “lucky to come out of that one” against Galway. As for the Tipp clash, it was here that he was given his greatest positional battle in the tussle between himself and Gearoid Ryan over the two games. Cillian describes Gearoid Ryan as a workaholic on the field; “he covers every blade of grass helping his midfield, I was just trying to keep up with him”.

Where UCD and the Fitzgibbon Cup are concerned, Cillian and the team are fully focused on making amends for their disappointing last couple of years in the competition. UCC have been the cause of hurling related woes for the Belfield side over the past two years, beating them in the semi-final of the Cup in 2013 and in the quarter final this year. When I asked of his greatest sporting memory with UCD, he admitted they were few and far between but he cites making it to the Fitzgibbon weekend of 2013.

The importance of the Fitzgibbon Cup to Cillian is evident. He describes it as a “stepping stone” to inter county, one that “breaks you in”. In his view, team work is paramount when it comes to winning this particular tournament. He believes the “most tight-knit group” will prevail and looks to WIT, last year’s victors, as evidence who, he feels, won without standout players. When asked of their own chances come February 2015, he is optimistic; “hopefully we’ll be thereabouts ourselves, Nicky English came in this year and a few new names are still about so we’ll give it a go anyway”. He also lumps praise on the men in the background such as Dave Billings and Tom O’ Mahony who, he says, have done “serious work” the last few years in a bid for success.

I expected Cillian Buckley to be worn out at the end of the arduous road to September. On the contrary, he’s eager to get back playing; both for his club, Dicksboro, in their championship in two weeks’ time, and for UCD. “Fitzgibbon medal, county medal, they’re ones you want to win so I’d be as excited for them as you would be for an All-Ireland championship”.

The UCD senior hurlers will first be in competitive action in the Walsh Cup at the start of 2015. They’ve a few months of hard work and training ahead of them no doubt. However, if they enjoy the game as much as one Cillian Buckley, the coming months will surely fly; “[there is] nothing that I’d change, it’s a commitment that I love in my life”.

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