Champion Chatter
Home » Sports » Senior Hurling Final » King Kelly eagerly awaiting return to county final
Tony Kelly: Ballyea have "invaluable experience that you can draw on in tough corners when you perhaps have to plug holes around the field.”

King Kelly eagerly awaiting return to county final

Champion Chatter

For a marquee player that has won almost every accolade in the game, Tony Kelly will probably relish Sunday’s County Final the most of all 30 starting players involved.

Having missed out on last year’s decider against Inagh-Kilnamona due to a long recuperation from ankle surgery, Kelly was doubly determined to get the champions back into a second consecutive final and actually play his part this time around in what will be his first county final showdown since 2018.

“After we won last year’s quarter-final, I was sitting at home thinking that there’s only potentially two games left but it wasn’t an option to play,” Kelly said this week ahead of the final.

“It would have been worse if we didn’t win it because you would have always been looking back thinking if I didn’t bother going for surgery, could we have won it? Luckily that didn’t happen and there were no regrets and it was mighty that we did win it.

“Don’t get me wrong, it was frustrating at the time but when we had it won, that immediately vanished as not only did I have the operation behind me and was on the mend but Ballyea were county champions too so it was really win-win thankfully.”

How would you describe that county final experience on the sideline then?

“It’s definitely different. Obviously you’ve less control on the sideline so even though you often think you can dictate things or influence from the line, you really have little to no control.

“In another way though, that’s the beauty of Ballyea in terms of having so many lads that have big game experience like Gary [Brennan], Cillian [Brennan], Pearse [Lillis], Cathal O’Connor, Jack [Browne], Paul [Flanagan], Gudgie [Gearoid O’Connell], [Niall] Deasy and all these lads that have played inter-county sport or sport at the top level.

“Then you can also draw on the likes of Murph [James Murphy] who has played in all three county finals and it’s about extracting all that experience when you get to the latter stages of the championship.

“A prime example of that was the last day against Cratloe as we went down to 14 men early and thankfully saw it out and got over the line.

“Actually, if you look back on all three finals that we’ve played, especially the first two, we had to really fight so hard to get out of sticky situations.

“In 2016, Clonlara were probably better than us the first day and we were lucky that Marty [O’Leary] came on and got a great goal to bring us back into the game.

“Then in the second one against Cratloe two years later, I think we were seven down at half-time and we just hung in there really.

“That’s the thing about sport, when a game is getting away from you, I’ve been on teams where we’ve just hung in there, slowed things down and withstood a bit of pressure before eventually getting a second wind and gathering momentum.

“That’s the type of invaluable experience that you can draw on in tough corners when you perhaps have to plug holes around the field.”

Plugging holes in Éire Óg’s miserly reargaurd takes priority this Sunday though in what is a surprisingly rare championship clash against their Ennis neighbours, not seen since 2016.

“We’ve never played them in a knock-out championship game and they [Éire Óg] are always there-or-threreabouts in the quarter-finals, semi-finals or the final this year obviously.

“In one way we know each other so well from playing with each other in inter-county hurling and football and in another way we don’t really know how they play having not built up a familiarity through playing.

“Now we’ve clearly played each other in challenges matches but championship is obviously totally different so it is strange that we haven’t met until now but the fact that we haven’t should also make for a good final.”

Oh and how’s the ankle now ahead of Sunday’s decider?

“It’s been grand. I came back last February or March and since then it’s been A1 and hasn’t given me any bother. The only struggle I had was at the start of the year after a lay-off to get the legs and lungs going again and after that it’s been very good.

“Compared to this time last year, it’s chalk and cheese anyway so the surgery seems to have worked and hopefully it’s the last one and will see me out until the end of my career.”

About Eoin Brennan

Check Also

All-Ireland champions first up for Clare in McGrath Cup

Clare have been drawn to face Kerry and Cork in the McGrath Cup which kicks …