Clare’s National Hurling League campaign continues this weekend when Laois come to Cusack Park on Sunday for their Round Three encounter.
Two wins from the opening two games for Brian Lohan’s outfit leaves them in a strong position to qualify for the knockout out stages of this year’s competition, and victory on Sunday would all but guarantee their progression.
Central to that cause will be Ballyea’s Tony Kelly, with the 2013 Hurler of the Year in brilliant form so far in 2020 as he amassed 0-24 from the Banner’s two outings to date.
He admits it is has been a good start under the management, but no one is getting carried away just yet.
“It is just a start and a positive one having played two games and won two games. That being said, we are under no illusions and we know there is plenty to work on. The wins were satisfying but the hurling the last day against Wexford might not have been great but conditions had a lot to do with that. We have three games left now in successive weeks so we will start to get a better picture of where we are towards the end of the league if we can get to a quarter-final or semi-final. Considering that we started back a bit late, we are off to a positive start and we are happy with how things are going. It was just a case of getting up and running and put in a good bit of ground of work through six to eight weeks of hard training From our point of view, we had a long layoff from intercounty hurling from June to December. I know we were playing with our clubs but there is a significant step up with conditioning and hurling and all the rest of it. The plan at the start was to build a base with fitness to put in that hard graft and then use the games to get your hurling up to pace and get the eye in. I think that is the way it will continue to go. We want to win every game we are in of course but it is all about building toward May and June” he said.
It remains to be seen if Lohan opts to shuffle his deck for Sunday’s game, with no changes made from the starting line-up that overcame Carlow when he named his team for the trip to Wexford Park. There have been a number of positional switches in Lohan’s early season selections, with Inagh-Kilnamona’s David Fitzgerald lining out at centre-foward rather than his usual wing-back slot. It has proven to be an effective move, with Fitzgerald registering 0-5 so far in this campaign while also being a constant target for Donal Tuohy’s puck-outs. Kelly feels now is the time to try things like that with the championship in mind.
“The management team have come in with their own ideas. Davy Fitzgerald at number 11 might be something new for people looking in from outside the set up but he does a lot of hurling in different positions for his club. You could see him anywhere from the half-back line to the half-forward line and he is well capable of doing both roles. Players tend to get that new lease of life when they are tried out in new positions and that is what the league is all about. It has been working so far and long may it continue. We know ourselves we have to get better in every position of the field and hopefully that will be a savage boost for us going forward” he noted.
Kelly’s early season form has been him chosen as the GAA.ie Hurler of the Week for consecutive weeks running, but he says it is all about building toward the crucial time of the year.
“It is early in the year and maybe it is more from the eagerness to get going again after the layoff as much as anything else. From a personal point of view it is all about just working hard and getting the body right. The last day against Wexford there might have been a lot made about one or two performances but the most pleasing thing was the overall team performance. That is what Brian and the lads have instilled in us this year, it is a complete package. There is no point in two or three lads playing well on a given day, it has to be about the collective. It is early days but the signs are there that things are promising and we just have to put the head down to work hard until the middle of May when we face Tipperary. The ethos of our training is to work as hard as you can and get the most out of it that you can. Pitches won’t be top of the ground stuff this time of year but if you can get your base work in now with work-rate and honesty, you will be able to fine tune your hurling once the ground gets hard. The platform for now is hard work and our hurling should be able to take care of itself come summer” he stated.
Laois will make the trip to Cusack Park on Sunday off the back of a 4-18 to 2-17 loss against Dublin last time out. Kelly is warning that they will have to be ready for a stern test.
He said: “Going by last year’s championship, they were a step ahead of us and from their point of view, had a really good year. They pushed Tipperary all the way and were probably unlucky with the sending off not to be closer. This is not a Laois team that people might have taken for granted in previous years. They have been progressing year on year and not only have they great experience on the field, they have on the sideline too with Eddie Brennan in charge. It is a good test for us and we are looking forward to it to see can we go out and perform again”.