herald

Wednesday 17 October 2018

Kelly: My head wanted to but my knee didn't'

Frustrated Dubs hero realised his body was no longer up to inter-county heat

END OF THE ROAD: Stylish defender Peter Kelly has called time on his Dublin career after a series of injuries. Picture credit: Cody Glenn / Sportsfile
END OF THE ROAD: Stylish defender Peter Kelly has called time on his Dublin career after a series of injuries. Picture credit: Cody Glenn / Sportsfile

One sentence cuts to the heart of Peter Kelly's decision to call time on an inter-county hurling career that scaled the glorious peaks of 2013 and subsequently plunged the injury-ravaged depths.

"It was frustrating for me," he told The Herald yesterday, "because my head wanted to do it and my knee didn't."

Peter Kelly - Dublin hurler (on and off) for a decade, league winner in 2011, Leinster champion and All Star full-back in 2013 - has retired from county hurling without pucking a competitive ball under Pat Gilroy.

"It actually wasn't overly difficult," he reveals, "because I knew it was the right decision."

The last Dublin game he started was a drawn Leinster quarter-final, against Galway in May 2015 - he tore his hamstring off the bone that day.

HIGHLIGHT: Dublin’s Peter Kelly lifts the Bob O’Keeffe Cup after winning the Leinster SHC Final in Croke Park back in July 2013. Picture credit: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
HIGHLIGHT: Dublin’s Peter Kelly lifts the Bob O’Keeffe Cup after winning the Leinster SHC Final in Croke Park back in July 2013. Picture credit: Ray McManus / Sportsfile

His last Sky Blue appearance was off the bench in that year's All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Waterford.

Major injury setbacks - two bad hamstring tears sandwiching the most serious of all, a dislocated kneecap while playing a club challenge in September 2015 - have effectively derailed the second half of his Dublin career.

Prolong

He turned 29 last week but the body is no longer up to county intensity and he hopes this decision will prolong his club career. And that's where the focus lies for the jet-heeled All Star full-back of five years ago, now happy to be Lucan Sarsfields' full-forward totem.

Coming after his 2015 travails, Kelly was sidelined for the entire 2016 county season before returning for the club championship. He then opted off Ger Cunningham's panel for 2017. "It was my own decision," he clarifies. "It was nothing to do with the knee ... I just felt it was a good time to step away for various reasons."

Yet, when Gilroy called, Kelly believed he could still cut it as a county hurler. "I was playing week in, week out (for Lucan) so I felt everything was in a good place. And then I got the phone call from Pat in November," he outlines.

"The way things finished up in 2015, I hadn't represented Dublin in a while and the whole project he was building, it was very hard to say no to.

"It was an opportunity to be involved in an elite environment again ... I felt I owed myself to give it a go again."

Ultimately, though, he never really got off first base. He approached the new medical team with his concerns about previous injuries and fears that the intensity of training would "cause me harm. So they put me on a programme to build me up, so that I'd be able to deal with the loads. That's what I did for the winter, focussed on getting myself ready for the pitch. Then when the pitch came around, it was still that bit too much.

"Going to training each week, trying to catch up with the lads … they had done a mountain of work ahead of me. And as the weeks went on, I realised that because of my knee injury I wasn't able to push at the intensity that inter-county hurling requires.

"Chatting with Pat, I said I feel this is the right decision for me if I want to go and continue playing with the club. And thank God that I am able to still play."

Painkillers

It had reached a point where Kelly was "taking painkillers and things like that just to get through training sessions. And that's something that I never really had to rely on with the club, because if there was a drill I couldn't do I'd step out. Or if I was sore after a match, I wouldn't train.

"I went back to Dublin initially because I felt I was in a position to push for a starting position. But I'd absolutely no interest in hanging around, number 40 on a panel, just to be there and be putting in the same effort as everyone else and not getting the rewards for it. So it was unfair on everybody, I think, if I'd stayed around, missing training sessions here and there."

Kelly made his championship in 2008, pre-Anthony Daly, and enjoyed several standout memories under the Clareman. None better than 2013: "From a collective point of view it was brilliant. We'd been written off many times during the summer," he recalls.

And the immediate Sky Blue future? "Everyone is talking about Kilkenny and Brian Cody's team being back," he muses. "Davy Fitz's (Wexford) team are going well, and Galway are always Galway … so I think there's a massive opportunity for Dublin to come underneath the radar there."

Sadly, they'll be doing it without him.