Paddy McKenna (Clane) in goals for Kildare against Carlow
Paddy McKenna may be just 26 years of age but the Clane and Kildare net-minder seems to be of those lads that has been around for an age.
He has no less than three Christy Ring Cup medals to his credit; his first back in 2014 when at the tender age of 19 he was understudy to Paul Dermody when Kildare defeated London in the final.
He was firmly between sticks in 2018 when The Lilies regained the Ring Cup, defeating London in the final.
And just back in November he was Kildare' no. 1 keeper, but due to illness, missed out on that big day when Kildare defeated Down, with keeper No 2, and his fellow club man from Clane, Mark Doyle, stepped up to the plate, and very successfully at that, with Paddy not even allowed, due to covid restrictions, attend the final in Croke Park.
“That was a huge disappointed” admitted the popular McKenna “but the fact that we had already gained promotion to the Joe McDonagh prior to the final, and of course that I already had two Christy Ring medals was a help, but no one wants to miss a big day such as that and certainly no one wants to miss lining out in Croke Park but the main thing is that we won on the day.”
Paddy got a phone call from his team mates that evening, they, still walking on the sacred turf of Croke Park, it was a face call so as Paddy says “I was there in picture, but not there physically.”
Paddy McKenna grew up and attended national and secondary school in Scoil Mhuire, Clane, where no less a man than Paul Dermody was his English teacher.
It was here that Paddy, among many lads who have since donned, not just the white of Clane, but the white of Kildare, got his love of the small ball game, and while he is no slouch with the big ball, there is no doubt that hurling is Paddy's first love.
Suggesting to the accomplished keeper than having two keepers from the same club vying for the no. 1 county shirt is unusual to say the least, that is until he points that two brothers in Cork (Ger and Patrick Collins) are presently the two shot-savers with the Cork senior hurlers.
Paddy McKenna has seen the good side, and indeed the not-so-good side of Kildare hurling. At this stage he has played under no less than four different county managers, beginning with Wexford native Willie Sunderland; followed by Brian Lawlor; Limerick native Joe Quaid and now, former Kilkenny All-Ireland winner, David Herity.
“They all brought something different to the table but the main difference from the time I first arrived back in 2013 and now is that these days players are clammering to play for the county.
“That” insists Paddy “is something new and has only really happened in recent times. Even when David (Herity) first arrived we had limited numbers, but this year has had to in fact cut numbers; leave players off match day squads and that” he insists “is only positive; as it spurs lads on, increases competition and that can only be good for the team as a whole.”
When Paddy first joined the squad, under manager Willie Sunderland, they did not even have a physio “but that has all improved considerably.”
Brian Lawlor brought in Niall Ronan, the first real high profile S&C coach that Kildare hurling would have had; he was using different schedules that were certainly unknown to Kildare hurlers at that time.
Joe Quaid succeeded Brian, said Paddy “and his approach was somewhat different. Joe would have various people doing coaching, observing mostly everything himself and then stepping in.
“David Herity would be very hands on himself, along with Declan O'Toole and Ronan McWilliams, the three lads are really top class, work really well together, a great combination.”
From the time David Herity arrived in Kildare his no. 1 objective was to play their hurling in Division 2A, at least, and while it has taken the team longer than was hoped that objective has been achieved this year with the recent win over Mayo.
“David knows what it takes to be a success; he knows the team has to be playing at a higher level, and no disrespect to the teams in Division 2B but we have to be meeting the Carlow's, the Westmeaths, the Kerry's and Offaly's, these are the teams we need to be playing to improve our game and standards.”
There is little doubt that both the standard and very importantly, the desire to play for Kildare has improved immensely insists Paddy. Up to this year Kildare were, at times, struggling with numbers but that has all changed?
“Absolutely, hugely, it was great even when we were doing our own personal training for the first four months during lockdown and you could see lads putting in 'scores' anything up to 34, 35 lads, that had never been the case since I came in, there is now a want to play hurling in Kildare.
“Before this lads such as John Doran, Mark Moloney, Richie Hoban, David Harney, Paudi Reidy, those lads would hurl for Kildare day in and day out but now we have a new generation of players and we now have the likes of Johnny Byrne and David Slattery, lads who gave everything to the footballers, and could have walked away and just go back and play with their clubs, but they threw in their lot with the hurlers so it is all so positive and just brilliant.
The Mayo game was always going to be our toughest test; they were demoted last year and while our first half did not go to plan, and in fairness to Mayo they had their home work done on us, but I was confident, and from a goalkeeping perspective I have more time to read things and knowing what we had scored up then I knew it was well within us, but the goal we got just before half time (David Slattery) was huge, going gin five down rather than eight, and at half time there was no panic, no shouting or screaming but in fairness while our team is quiet young, it is nevertheless a fairly experienced team; a great variety of experience at different ages, we felt if we could just tweak a few things and get going we could get through it, and we did.”
So now a bigger step up again against Carlow and Westmeath?
“It will be but at the same time it is nothing we should be turning our backs to, we have played both of them in different leagues down the years, the lads would have played against them; there is nothing to be feared although it will be playing at a higher standard but I feel that the players we have and the quality that we have we will take on anyone and give it a right good shot.
“But, yes, really looking forward to it and we deserve to be where we are; we won the Christy Ring twice before but were not promoted so ye, something we are all really looking forward to.
Paddy McKenna has come a long way from being in class with Paul Dermody honing his English skills, to heading to training with the Kilkenny native, honing his hurling skills, as he looks forward to Saturday and competing in the Joe McDonagh Cup.
“It will be a great day for Kildare hurling; a great day for all the clubs in the county, playing in the second tier competition, if everything goes well we could be back in Croke Park come the end of July, but for now we will concentrate on Carlow and hopefully get off to a winning start” says Paddy.
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