Dublin's hopes of winning the All-Ireland football crown this year received a major boost after talented teenager Ciaran Kilkenny cut short his Aussie Rules career after just four months.
Kilkenny had opted to return to the Hawthorn club in Melbourne after the Christmas break, but has instead committed himself to the Dublin senior football team for 2013.
He will also play hurling with the Dublin under-21 team and football and hurling with his club Castleknock.
The highly rated 19-year-old made the surprise announcement late last week when he was due to return to Australia.
In a statement, Kilkenny said, “I have decided for personal reasons not to return to Aussie Rules.”
He revealed that he had enjoyed his experience in Australia and was grateful to Hawthorn for providing him with the opportunity to experience life as a professional athlete.
He added, “The professionalism of the club was exemplary and they always made me feel very welcome.
“As much as I enjoyed the lifestyle of a professional Aussie Rules player and relished the challenge of achieving in a different code, I realized 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 realizing 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.”
New Dublin football team boss Jim Gavin has already met with Kilkenny and is delighted to welcome him back to the fold.
Gavin said, “I met Ciaran over recent days and we had a chat about his experiences in Australia, particularly on the football side.
“He has made enough statements about his passion and his grá for Gaelic games and the language, which is commendable for a guy of such young years.
“Ciaran has prioritized that he wants to play with his club Castleknock and the Dublin under-21 and senior football teams, and the under-21 hurlers as well, so he has a lot on his plate.”
Gavin added, “Any player like his talent, and, of that generation, they’re all positive for Gaelic games.
“But no more than any player, he needs to get back into the system. We’re picking players on performances and he needs to get the opportunity to put those performances in. He knows as well there are no guarantees in sport.”
Dublin under-21 football team boss Dessie Farrell is delighted with Kilkenny’s return and said his decision is a big boost for the GAA and for Dublin.
Farrell said, “It’s a great boost for the county. At the time it was considered to be a great loss, so to have him back so soon is very positive.
“There’s no doubt that Ciaran is a special talent. It’s been evident in his performances at under-21 level in his first year out of minor, and how he performed on the national stage in the senior championship for Dublin last year.
“He has what it takes to operate at the highest level. He’s a great individual and keeps his feet firmly planted on the ground.”
Farrell also believes Kilkenny’s decision will help stop the flood of players moving to Aussie Rules from the GAA.
He continued, “Obviously there was also a huge debate about the International Rules Series, that it was putting a lot of our better young players on show and in the shop window for Australian clubs.
“The fact that clubs were running camps and scouting our players hasn’t sat well with the more traditional members of the organization.
“But this shows that one of our best young players had an opportunity presented to him, he had a look at it and realized it wasn’t for him.
“That’s hugely encouraging for the GAA as a whole and we shouldn’t have any fears about our games being on show and competing with the best professional games in the world.”
Officials at the Hawthorn club have accepted Kilkenny’s decision.
Hawthorn’s List Manager Graham Wright said, “We’re disappointed but we’re leaving the door open, there’s no reason to close it if he was to change his mind in a couple of months, or six months or a year.
“He had been doing really well and it had been a great five or six weeks. He had trained well and had impressed everyone with his running ability and commitment.
“He was the type of lad you’d have to watch for fear of over-training.”