During my time in the Kilkenny dressing room there were two people who didn’t speak often, but when they did, it was genuine, heartfelt, and everyone around was always paying attention. Noel Hickey was one. The other was Derek Ling.
Glad to see him taking over the reins at Kilkenny. On a personal level, I would classify him as one of the top people we were during our time – real substance, a guy of character, a very focused guy who doesn’t bull**t.
When the going gets tough, people like him move on.
At the start of the 2009 All-Ireland Finals, Shane McGrath was trying to enter Derek, but he never retaliated. Instead he calmly grabbed McGrath by the scruff and drove him away from the clash. He doesn’t fool or bluff on the field. He just kept his focus and sobriety. He is Ling – his own man and very focused on the task at hand.
It took courage to do this work. To be the first in the door after Brian Cody—who reached an unattainable level—took the penis even higher in my estimation. Derek is seeing this as a great opportunity, whereas if I and others were honest about it, we would be looking at it as an impossible task.
When I heard Cody was gone, Gender, for me, was the only show in town. He withdrew from the senior set-up three years ago and I remember thinking at the time that he was going to the Under-20s, more or less saying that he wanted to leave his ship.
He knows the Kilkenny club is throwing upside down, inside out, and he’s the kind of guy who will roll up his sleeves and leave no stone unturned. This was the foundation of U-20’s success and he will grow from that. He’s not afraid of anything, and that’s what you have to be on this level with.
What style can we expect from Kilkenny next year? Like all of us, Gender is shaped by his environment, so don’t expect a major departure from what Cody has to offer. His management approach would likely be a version of Cody’s principles that he would develop in his way of playing. His U-20 team was flexible and adaptable to face modern hurling styles.
But the core principles that Cody talks about — about having the spirit, being fully committed, being inspired — are something he would expect from all of his players.
Ling was through All-Ireland’s successes and defeats and they were great opportunities to take it, evaluate what was spoken and what was not. Sometimes, you need to fly over a wall and be exposed to different environments.
You put in a lot of thought as a manager, and he’ll be asking himself in the coming weeks what kind of stamp he wants to put on this team.
What was clear in the Under-20 All-Ireland’s performance this year was that their players never gave up, and that relentlessness is something he will bring to the senior team.
I think he will take his U-20 management team with him in Peter Barry, Michael Rice and Peter O’Donovan and you can’t have better people. They will provide good contrast.
Wouldn’t want comfortable sex; This is a team that will challenge each other and they certainly will not take the easy option. ‘Lingers’, ‘Pe Barry’ and ‘Ricey’, I’ve seen and had together when we did our winter grunt work, and I can guarantee none of them will ever take a shortcut.
As an inter-county manager, you have to look at the year ahead, but also looking down years two and three. You have to ask yourself what do you want to achieve in the first year.
The one thing he won’t do is use this as an opportunity to get his feet under himself. Ling will be all out. He’ll look at that U-20 team and ask if half a dozen people are ready to be on the expanded senior team.
There were some big, physical, athletic people out there, so he would focus on exposing them to the senior environment and if anyone could be good, well and good.
There may be one or two guys who move on, but I expect most of the 26 of the All-Ireland senior squad to stay there.
As a player, Derek was very motivated, determined, and ready to do whatever it took to get the job done. That’s what he would expect from his players. He worked for a long time in Under-20 teams.
He will look at the opposition teams and come up with a plan based on maximizing his team’s ability to eliminate their strengths and play the game on their terms. This is the goal of any manager.
The real people and general public at Kilkenny have always been proud of their handicap teams and have been very supportive. At the start of a new era, my hope is that this will continue because All-Irelands are not easily won, and they have no rights either.
Support and patience are important.