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Friday 9 December 2016

Croker holds for Peter Kelly and the Dubs

Dublin 'tuned in' for season-defining clash with old foes, according to co-captain Kelly

Peter Kelly, Dublin Hurling,
Peter Kelly, Dublin Hurling,

AS it happens, two seminal moments of Peter Kelly's inter-county hurling career came with Galway as Dublin's opposition.

Rewind to 2011 and the narky Leinster semi-final between the teams in Tullamore, a coming-of-age moment for Anthony Daly's Dublin team and a 'come-back-and-help-out' moment for Kelly.

Early on, Joe Canning turns Tomás Brady on the outside and launches a sidewinder past Gary Maguire off his left side.

To compound matters, Brady ruptures his cruciate and Kelly - big and quick - looks about as good a fit as anyone clad in blue in the task of guarding hurling's prince.

"If you thought about it too much, you'd get nervous," recalls the Lucan Sarsfields man now, happy in the knowledge that Canning's only subsequent scoring contribution to that match came from frees.

"But it was in the middle of the game.

"Because I had to get to the pitch of it straight away, I didn't have the chance to get nervous."

An All Star (2013) later and Kelly is one of hurling's pre-eminent number threes, even if his conversion was out of necessity rather than design.

"That was my first time full-back. I was kind of thrown in as an emergency measure but I kind of got stuck there in the end.

"I was a centre-back who had never played full-back before going in to mark one of the best hurlers of his generation," Kelly outlines.

"I had nothing to lose, really. Just threw caution to the wind and it worked out quite well for the team."

"It gave me a lot of confidence in full-back and maybe gave the management something different to look at. Probably a bit of a selection headache.

"I wouldn't say it was a turning point in my career because I had established myself as a starter already. But a turning point in my career, position-wise."

The other major event Galway-related even in Kelly's career - almost suffice to say - is the 2013 Leinster final, the gleeful finish line of the marathon Dublin started on the aforementioned afternoon in Tullamore.

"To lift any sort of silverware, especially as a Dublin player, is quite rare," Kelly points out.

"So to set a goal to lift the Bob O'Keefe Cup and get there in the end, especially after five tough weeks of games with the replays, was definitely a pivotal moment for Dublin hurling."

One played out in Croke Park, though statistics dragged up prior to Dublin's League quarter-final win over Limerick this year suggested such instances are not only wonderful, but rare too.

Their overpowering of TJ Ryan's men subsequently did plenty to disperse the loitering evidence that Dublin couldn't, or at least hadn't regularly, perform in Croke Park.

As with all easy labels, there's nuance.

"When it came out first we kind of looked back at the stats and we hadn't won a few games here and there," Kelly begins.

"But if you look at the opposition we were playing, they were always... we were probably nearly always underdogs in Croke Park.

negative

"I don't think we've ever lost, maybe Antrim (in 2009) is an exception, but we've never lost in Croke Park when we've been favourites so I think it's easy to make a stat look like it's a negative one.

"But I don't think we saw it as a negative.

"I don't think technically we were ever in doubt.

"We were always able to mix it with the top counties.

"Just getting that confidence to win the big games is one thing that we need to work on and we have been working on.

"We've got some big wins under our belt already this year and hopefully it'll stand to us in the summer."

There are, says Kelly, some differences to Dublin's collective frame of mind already when compared to recent summer preambles.

"I suppose in previous years we were playing a lot on emotion, trying to get through," he points out.

"Like that five-game campaign (on the way to the 2013 Leinster title) we were definitely getting through on emotion and how much we wanted to win each game.

"This is much more focusing on the things that will lead to a good performance.

"We're measuring ourselves against them, against how many points we put over the bar, how many hooks and blocks we get.

"So we're kind of breaking it down a lot more that if we hit these targets we'll perform well and that's what we're focusing on for Galway."

"We know Galway. We know exactly what to expect.

"We know to expect a very tough team, a very tough game that will probably come down to the wire.

seriously

"We haven't really thought of the loss element, even though it's a reality.

"You take every game seriously. But when you're coming up against an All-Ireland contender in the first round, it definitely does focus the mind a bit more.

Kelly concludes: "I'm not saying we gave any more or less respect to other teams but definitely, when you come up against a tough game in the first round, you're definitely tuned in."

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