Eoin Kelly: Training beats Barack!
KELLY insists his pursuit of another All-Ireland puts meeting Barack Obama in shade.
HERE’S a snapshot into the mindset of a two-time All-Ireland-winning hurler consumed by thoughts of making it a Celtic cross hat-trick this weekend.
Eoin Kelly has shaken hands with Barack Obama in the White House this year but even that memorable event was eclipsed by … wait for it |… returning to the cut-and-thrust |of training with his Tipperary colleagues!
The Premier County skipper confirms, needless to say, that of course he has enjoyed the “trimmings” that came with last September’s thrilling derailment of Kilkenny’s Drive-for-Five.
The most high-profile of these |was meeting the US president on |St Patrick’s Day, as part of an Irish delegation headed by Taoiseach |Enda Kenny and including Dublin footballer Bernard Brogan.
But, as Kelly quickly reminds: “They’re only sideshows really. What I really enjoyed was getting back into the training this year.
“After last year’s success, it gave that pep in the step, you had that belief, and then we’d a new management (led by Declan Ryan) so that was fresh.
“They brought in fresh faces as well,” he adds.
“There’s maybe eight or nine in our squad this year that don’t have All-Ireland medals.
“People don’t realise it, but from 16 to 31 in our squad it has been changed dramatically.
“Our training is competitive, and we needed that each session to make sure we got it out onto the pitch.
“I couldn’t tell you who’s going to be our one to 15 the next day (Kelly was speaking ahead of last night's unchanged team announcement)
and more importantly who’s going to be 16 to 26 … there is fighting for |positions and that’s a healthy |situation.”
For Kelly, what made last year all the sweeter was the sense of longing that preceded it: his second All-Ireland medal came 12 months after losing an epic final with Kilkenny, and nine long years after his maiden September voyage.
Given the context, you might even speculate that beating Kilkenny last season has surely sated the ’01 survivors, Kelly, Lar Corbett |and Brendan Cummins?
Not so, the captain declares.
“People are saying is there the same hunger this year as last year? But for some of the experienced players, there were nine years – barren years – where we weren’t successful at all,” he points out.
“That’s why the hunger is still there with us. Thankfully we’re after filtering that through to the younger guys as well. They realise, from us maybe saying so, that the opportunity |doesn’t come around every year … and you want to grab it with both hands.”
Likewise, Kelly has no fears that the Tipp young guns raised on a diet of minor and U21 All-Irelands will take their eye off the ball.
“You never hear them on about the past or what they’ve won,” he points out. “And if they’re told training is not on in Thurles tonight, that we’re running up and down Slievenamon, they’d do it. They just have that attitude.”
Kelly himself is 29: this one-time prodigy is now a venerable six-time All Star, a veteran of 12 senior campaigns. He has seen it all and won most of it too, but is still taken aback at how the life of an inter-county hurler has transformed over the past decade.
Asked how many hours he devotes in a week to Tipp, the Mullinahone clubman doesn’t answer directly, instead saying: “It’s no different to any other guy at inter-county, it’s when you get up in the morning.
“When you’re sitting down to have your breakfast, you’re doing it for a reason. If you weren’t, you’d be hopping on the eggs and the rashers and the sausages. Your dietician tells you what to do … since I started it’s after going to an unbelievable level.”
Those perennial stars in stripes have been fundamental to this continual raising of the bar. Kelly can recall Brian Cody saying, in the wake of the Cats’
2001 semi-final defeat by Galway, that Kilkenny “didn’t win the physical battle that day”.
From that day on, they became a very physical team – and they matched it with hurling as well. “Maybe, for a couple of years, we didn’t realise ‘Jesus, we have to get up to this physicality’. Thankfully we’re up at it now, and you need that if you’re to win any game – we saw that against Dublin.”
Mention of that fraught semi-final causes Kelly to remark on how rampant expectation has been reined in among the Premier faithful.
Before the Dublin game, he recalls, some supporters were already “talking rubbish” about facing Kilkenny in the final.
“That can seep in – but when you’re playing Kilkenny, there’s no rubbish talk. You know the challenge ahead,” he warns.
“They’re back in their sixth All-Ireland in a row – that speaks for itself. And some of them are going for history, chasing eight All-Ireland medals.”
Kelly is craving his third but, having lived through the highs and lows |of the noughties, he refuses to |pigeon-hole this final as a chance for two-in-a-row or as a defining 2-1 |tie-breaker between hurling’s twin towers.
Instead, he’s determined to grab this once-off opportunity, realising that “this All-Ireland could be our last. That’s what I’m thinking anyway – you just don’t know”.