Big, strong and old-style Kinahan turned full back play into an art-form 3 months ago

Big, strong and old-style Kinahan turned full back play into an art-form

Full forward was 23, he was one of the brightest talents in the game and on this August Sunday, he was going to town.

Full back was nearer to 30, had a lifetime of hurling behind him and in a pent-up and losing Croke Park dressing room, it wasn't the sound of a bush being bet around he was hearing at half-time.

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"The manager called me in and said 'if you don't pull up your socks, you're going off."

Blunt, and to the point. Just how full back would have wanted it.

Up in the stands, the commentator was surprised when he saw full back, the cuts of a nightmare first half still bleeding, trudging out for another 35 minute stay of execution. He wasn't the only one.

Full forward had the momentum, the confidence and for Offaly's troubles, he had eight points to his name but like a giant coming out to play, suddenly full back was up, dressed and he was hurling as if he didn't give damn.

Kevin Kinahan was the man, you may not have heard about him, but in that mood, the Offaly man was one of the best full backs ever to play the game.

"As Brian Cody says, 90% of your hurling is done up in your head. If your head is right, the rest will follow," Kinahan says now, 21 years on from Offaly's last big hurling championship win.

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Kinahan was a big man, still is, and as full backs of his stature will well know and attest to, it's not the beefy or the brawny but the small, zippy dancer of a forward who will frighten the life out of you. In this dinger of an All-Ireland semi-final, it was Cork's Joe Deane who had Offaly's last line stripped down to their bare bones.

An old, slowing Offaly who were too traditional to keep up with Cork's hurling revolution. Who were meant to be nothing more than dead men walking.

As history tells us, their blatant refusal to go with the flow of this rip-roaring millennium-turner was, sadly, just a dying kick but for a man like Kevin Kinahan, it was a 35 minute dying kick that, better than anything else, encapsulates his entire hurling career.

In the second half, the revived, saved and born again Clareen club-man horsed Joe Deane so far out of the picture that he was beaten to the first six balls they would contest. Reading the game was one of Kinahan's greatest gifts and number 3 beat 14 to the breaks, he stopped him in his tracks and when Cork were under so much pressure that they had to hit the ball in high, they had already lost this game.

This was Kevin Kinahan, the three-time All-Star, the horse and cart of a full back hurling up the storm of all storms and reminding us as if we needed reminding of just how good he was. Kinahan's whirlwind turned the tide and helped Offaly to a 0-19 to 0-15 win; a win that was so far removed from the deterioration that would follow.

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"When you have the practice done, you'll have belief in yourself even when things are going wrong. That was a sweet win that day but unfortunately it was our last great day really, after ten brilliant years..."

"It's amazing how far downhill it has gone for Offaly in the last while. I can't see Offaly coming back up, it's such a long road when you look at it. It seems they haven't enough good players. You take a club game in Offaly now, you wouldn't pick out an outstanding county player. Back when we were hurling, you'd always be able to pick out two, three or four good hurlers. Nowadays, it's just basic standard and there's no-one who's really outstanding..."

Life as a full back is a lot different these days. Strange to see Dan Morrissey, a wing back by inclination, master the art within a year but Kinahan calls a spade a spade when he says the art; an art passed down to him by his club-man Eugene Coughlan, has changed unrecognisably in the last few years.

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Clareen's two great full backs, Kevin Kinahan and Eugene Coughlan

"Hurling is completely different now," the self employed painter/decorator says.

"No-one stays in positions at all, lads moving in and out. It's all quick, fast ball, diagonal and angled balls. It's all speed, skill and there's not as much physicality in it. You see nobody pulling on a ball in the air at all anymore. You wouldn't see two hurls clashing and you wouldn't even see as many high balls, 50:50 balls.

"Back when I was playing, my idea as a full back was you just had to get the ball. If your man got it, you were in trouble. If you left it behind ya, you were fecked too. You're the last line of defence so you had to win it. If you were on a fast forward, you could have an eejit made out of you in a second, like Joe Deane did to me. It's all about reading the game and trying to get onto the breaks and that.

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"As a young lad, I was always practicing hitting the ball off the wall. Every hour, every bit of spare time you have, hitting the ball off the wall and attacking the ball then to control it. I used to love catching the ball in the air, so I'd be hitting the ball up in the sky and trying to catch ten in a row. Practice makes perfect and then in the matches, I'd just give the full forward a little nudge in the back and you'd be away with it."

Spoken like a dyed in the wool full back.

"Even from underage. I had looked up to Eugene (Coughlan) and looking at him playing for Offaly and Clareen on the edge of the square, I had always said I'd loved to be playing there where he was and playing like him. I always wanted to be a full back and it was probably because of him."

Just two years later, Kinahan hung up the boots and called it a day at 31. In many ways, it marked the end of an era with Offaly fans longing for the days in Croke Park when, just like that day against Cork, their full back would rise to the challenge and turn defence into attack.

"Ah the legs were gone. It was getting fierce fast. I wouldn't turn on a penny as the fella says anyway. Training was getting tougher, the winter training and that and I had nearly had enough of it at that stage.

"I hurled for another seven or eight years with the club but when the helmets came in, I couldn't hurl with them at all, I couldn't get used to them. I cut out bars out of the guards and all but still couldn't get used to it..."

Offaly manager Pat Fleury was delighted with Kinahan after the win over Cork.

When the day job is done you could see him up in the Seir Kieran pitch these days, passing on the gift to the club's under-15s.

"It's gone fierce strict now. I'm coaching the under-15s and nowadays, you have to do a Garda Vetting course, childcare courses, all these courses, it would nearly put you off getting into it but sure look, it's good to be involved."

He'll never forget the good old days.

"We lived for the hurling that time. We'd stay out 'til it got dark. Backs and forwards was our thing. The forwards had to score three goals ands sure the backs would do anything not to let them. Marking any of the Dooley boys and you had a tough evening's work. Those were great times."