By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — He retired, he returned, and, at 29, D.J. Carey is on the verge of another honor to add to his seven All-Star awards, two All-Ireland medals and six Leinster titles. He spearheads the Kilkenny attack in Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling final against Leinster rivals Offaly, and despite his standing in GAA circles, he believes he has yet to leave his mark on a final.
"That criticism is there and I’ve no problem with it because when I’m going to sleep at night, the first thing I do is criticise myself," Carey said.
Since his premature retirement, he has played in two deciders and lost them both and last September when Kilkenny were beaten by Cork, he went scoreless.
"I won’t by trying to take on the whole Offaly team on my own, because it’s not possible, but yes it would be great to turn in a big All-Ireland final," Carey said. "But the most important thing is that we win, and if Henry Shefflin, or Charlie Carter or John Power or anyone, if they’re the men that turn it on, then there’ll be no one happier than myself."
But the question regarding Sunday’s game centers on whether Kilkenny have got themselves bogged down in a losing mindset. "It has been a bitter pill to swallow because every year we have gone to Croke Park with the greatest confidence and to then get those kicks in the teeth, well, it’s very disheartening," Carey said. "But Offaly will be as nervous as us this time and it’ll come down to whatever team gets the breaks."
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So, Carey is aiming to set the record straight despite the fact that he knows Offaly, who Kilkenny hammered in the Leinster final, are coming good at exactly the right time. "Yes, they seem to be able to use criticism as a motivating factor, but I still don’t believe that any team can turn it on or off because they’re criticized," Carey said. "You still have to have talent, and they have that in abundance."
Carey will almost certainly be lining out at full forward, and is adamant that the only adjustment he’s had to make is in terms of patience. "I’m not actually no stranger to the position; it’s simply a case of waiting for the supply to come in," he said. "I’ve played there almost every year at some stage and if you look back to the 1992 semifinal, Ollie Walsh moved me to full forward."
Offaly, meanwhile, have stuck with the same team which shocked the holders Cork in last month’s semifinal. Michael Duignan, Stephen Byrne and Kevin Martin have all been selected following injury scares, and Joe Errity retains the center back position, where he will be flanked by Brian Whelahan and Martin. John Troy, who quit the panel after the quarterfinal victory over Derry, has returned to the subs’ bench.
In their fourth final since 1994, Offaly go into the game on an equal footing with their opponents following that impressive win against Cork. Kilkenny still have a worry concerning the fitness of Brian McEvoy, who injured his collarbone during the semifinal win over Galway. McEvoy remains doubtful and if he is ruled out, it could mean a return for Canice Brennan.