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05th Feb 2020

The three Kildare men putting their county on hurling map on Fitzgibbon weekend

Niall McIntyre

Heading into college. New things. Big changes. Sporting dreams.

What about the hurling?

James Burke, Simon Leacy and Rian Boran have always stood out in Kildare. With Naas, the ’98 models’ were some of the best they’d seen. In school, they were the key men but college’s hurling you must understand, is no place for a run-of-the-mill stick-man.

Where are you from?

It’s the part that convinces many of them to stay back. Hang up the hurl and leave it to the lads from Tipp, Cork, Kilkenny, Limerick, Galway…

James Burke, Simon Leacy and Rian Boran however, have never been confronted with a challenge they wanted to stand back from.

Answering the question doesn’t leave the best first impression in a land of hurling snobbery, but the three lads from Naas hurled their way into every conversation.

Take a trip to Cork. Corkness is an actual trait down there and without aiming to cause offence in the People’s Republic, confidence is in these parts, seen as a necessity of life.

This is all between the ears of course and a product of over-thinking but if you put yourself in young Simon Leacy’s shoes, these are very real concerns. It’s not the most inviting proposition to go in hurling with the Galacticos of Cork, Tipp, Limerick and all in UCC when all you have to your name is a few medals in Kildare.

But nobody bites, even those infected by Corkness and Leacy was some rep for Kildare hurling.

“He went down to UCC a couple of years ago and nobody knew him,” says Richie Hogan, his Naas underage coach. 

“He had no sport scholarship and you know the way it goes – ‘Where are you from? Oh Kildare… we’ll just put you over there…”

Simon Leacy in action for Kildare. This weekend, he will be a part of UCC’s Fitzgibbon Cup panel.

“But Simon worked his way onto the fresher team by nothing other than his own performances, held his place on it and he’s on their Fitzgibbon panel now. He may not get on, but it’s a serious achievement…”

Up the road to Dublin.

College’s hurling is like a beat the buzzer these days. Everything is against the clock and it’s impossible to get everyone together before a sandwiched competition, with club and county taking precedence all over.

Reputations will get you a long way in this game.

County minors and those on scholarships get the benefit of the doubt. Being a Kildare minor doesn’t carry the same weight in DCU for example, as a Kilkenny or Wexford star is entitled to, but in Glasnevin they were open-minded and James Burke was relentless.

He has overcome challenges way steeper than some preconceived notions about his place on the map, but his progress and centrality to the star-studded DCU team is remarkable none-the-less.

Adrian, Darren Mullen, Donal Burke, Fiontan McGibb and Fergal Whitely were among their subs the last day for example, while the Naas man hit two points and caught a world of ball from half forward.

“This chap was nearly lost from us, he was very, very ill two years ago,” says Hogan of the time when James Burke contracted bacterial meningitis just a couple of weeks after winning a Freshers title with DCU.

“They weren’t sure whether he’d make it…”

Burke inspired Kildare to the Christy Ring just a couple of months later.

This is the type of character you’re dealing with.

“He obviously has serious courage about him, and he’s a brilliant hurler too…”

Kildare may not be renowned for it’s hurling but they make ’em good here too. Their club scene is competitive, with Naas putting it up to eventual All-Ireland champs Tullaroan for large parts this winter. Only a couple of years ago, Celbridge had Carrickshock beaten bar the shock of two injury time goals. Carrickshock went onto win an All-Ireland too.

Rian Boran is another Naas man and Lilywhite who’s a part of the DCU panel and for the hurling people of Naas, all eyes will be on the Fitzgibbon cup this weekend.

“Rian is the same. He’s a super player, seriously talented, he’s unbelievable in the air…”

“There will be a lot of interested Naas people travelling up to it. They’re demonstrating to people outside of Kildare just how talented they are, and it will be a great weekend for their families as well…”

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