Kilkenny opts for GAA career over AFL

Dublin starlet Ciaran Kilkenny has decided against pursuing a career in Australian Rules football, having returned home during the Christmas period.

Kilkenny signed up with AFL Premiership club Hawthorn last September, grasping the opportunity to play professional sport Down Under.

The 19-year-old dual player underwent a six-week training programme with the Hawks before coming home for Christmas.

However, the talented forward, who made his senior Championship debut for the Dubs last summer, has had a change of heart and wants to resume his GAA career.

The youngster's decision is an early boost for new Dublin football manager Jim Gavin whose side have opened the season with O'Byrne Cup wins over Carlow and DCU.

In a statement released this morning, Kilkenny confirmed: "I have decided not to pursue my career in Australian Rules football any further and have informed the Hawthorn club of my decision.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience in Australia and am extremely grateful to Hawthorn for providing me with the opportunity to experience life as a professional athlete in a wonderful country. The professionalism of the club was exemplary and they always made me feel very welcome.

“However, seeing Australia and a different way of life, also served to bring home to me the things that make Ireland so special.

"Obviously family and friends are important but I also came to really appreciate the things that make Ireland unique such as the people in general, the way of life and of course the GAA.

“As much as I enjoyed the lifestyle of a professional Aussie Rules player and relished the challenge of achieving in a different code, I realised that it would never matter as much to me as the sense of community and joy I get from togging out and playing alongside the people with whom I grew up and live.

“Achieving success and realising my potential as a hurler and footballer with my club and county will always be more important to me than any of the benefits to be obtained from professional sport."

The Castleknock ace has had a rapid rise up the ranks, particularly with the Dublin footballers - playing for the minors, Under-21s and seniors all in the space of a year.

He had two impressive years with the Dublin minors under Val Andrews and Dessie Farrell, and was an All-Ireland Under-21 medal winner last May in Jim Gavin's high-rated team.

Kilkenny finished the U-21 Championship as the Dubs' top scorer with 2-30 (0-8f) and was chosen as the Cadbury's Hero of the Future award winner.

He completed his Leaving Cert exams in early summer before being one of the Under-21 players to be added to the Dublin senior panel by then manager Pat Gilroy.

He made his bow for Gilroy's men in their Leinster semi-final win over Wexford and had his first start in the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Mayo, standing in for the injured Alan Brogan.

Kilkenny had come to the attention of Australian Rules scouts before that, with Carlton Blues and Hawthorn leading the chase for his signature.

He had a successful trial back in February - organised by Tadhg Kennelly - and was offered a contract by Carlton after catching their attention.

A subsequent trial with the Hawks convinced Kilkenny to plump for Hawthorn and he agreed terms with the 2012 Premiership runners-up, penning a two-year international rookie contract.

But expanding today on his decision to return to Ireland, he added: "It may seem like a short time to spend in Australia but I have always given absolute commitment to any team in which I was involved and I feel it would be unfair on both Hawthorn and myself to continue in a situation where I am not 100% committed and happy in myself.

“I’ve come to realise also that although I enjoy the game of Australian Rules football, it could never replace the satisfaction I get from the round ball or a sliotar.

"Sport has always been something I did for enjoyment and I have found that it’s not something I can do merely because it’s my job.

"The passion I feel for hurling and football is not transferrable to any other sport and seeing my neighbours and team-mates happy when we do well is reward enough.

“Going to live in Australia was never something I felt I had to do. I always said however that if I didn’t go I might have doubts or questions later on in life but having spent some time there now I’m happy that that those doubts and questions will not arise.

"Now I’m looking forward to getting back involved in what I feel truly passionate about, hurling and football with my club, and seeing where that takes me.

“I will be making no further comment at this juncture and would appreciate if people would understand and respect this position.

“Ní glaise iad na cnoic i bhfad uainn i gcónaí!”

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