Thursday 23 January 2020

Kelly's heroes out to beat the odds one more time

Paul Kelly. Photo: Sportsfile
Paul Kelly. Photo: Sportsfile

Paul Kelly doesn't disguise the magnitude of the challenge facing his 11/2 underdogs in Parnell Park.

"The way I see it, there's nobody trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes," says the Thomas Davis manager ahead of Sunday's Dublin SFC decider (4.0).

"Ballyboden are consistently in the top four of the league. A huge amount of their team have played in an All-Ireland final. A lot of their lads have played and won medals with Dublin.

"Nine days out of ten, they probably should win. But hopefully this is the one out of ten that they don't."

Kelly is not playing the poor mouth: beating one-in-ten odds has become a Tallaght trademark this season. Not alone have their hurlers attained senior A status for the first time, their footballers (up to ten of them dual players) have reached the club's first SFC final in 28 years.


Against that famine backdrop have been other issues that could have floored a lesser club. A crippling debt earlier this decade - now cleared. A serious fire in 2014. A championship restructure that saw the footballers exiled to tier two in 2018. A fruitless trip to the DRA to fight demotion.

"A lot of guys who have put a huge amount of work into the underage boys, girls, football and hurling, they're the real heroes because they provided the talent," says Kelly.

"With the economic circumstances that were around, and in the area and environment they were in, for the club to actually generate that level of financing and go through the fire, and the recovery from the fire … you can only be proud of the facilities that are in the area now."

And prouder still of their growth on the pitch.

Kelly has long been domiciled in Eadestown, Co Kildare, but he's a son of Tallaght who has returned to his home club in what could be construed as their hour of need.

Back in 1987, he managed a Thomas Davis minor team that included a future Texaco Footballer of the Year - Paul Curran - to a Dublin MFC A final, even though he was barely half a decade their senior.

"I used to play soccer at the time," he recounts. "Davis used to run street leagues in the summer - a neighbour got involved in the club, a chap called Jimmy Turner. He collared a few of us to get involved in street leagues.

"Then he collared me to help him carry a few bottles with a team he had. Then he said to me there's a team that needs someone to manage them, and would you like to have a crack?

"We won the U14 Division 1 league, and I managed them all the way up to the minor, beaten by Vincent's after a replay in the final ... the only team ever to beat us between 14 and minor were Vincent's."

Kelly played junior and intermediate with Davis, but never senior, as Curran & Co delivered the fabled three-in-a-row from 1989 to '91 - their only county titles.

Having settled in Eadestown, Kelly went on to manage their ladies' football team to an All-Ireland junior title in 2006. He later coached and then managed the Kildare ladies' team.

"Then I went into six years of madness," he quips of his managerial homecoming. "There's been no dull days anyway! We've a small, tight bunch of lads who work as a good collective; they've a lovely atmosphere between them."


The buzz around the club has been palpable after last weekend's thrilling ambush of the holders, Kilmacud.

"A number of the lads are related to guys who were in that three-in-a-row team - it's a nice mix between old Tallaght then and the new Tallaght now," he explains.

There are other family connections too: Kelly's own son Oisin, a Dublin U21 panellist when they won the 2017 All-Ireland title, is part of the team.

In another respect, it hasn't been a normal county final build-up for the Kelly clan. His 17-year-old daughter Alannah - who plays football for Eadestown but is also a three-day eventer - has ended up in St James's Hospital after an equestrian accident.

Fingers crossed, says her father, she'll be able to make the final. Then it's over to his players to beat the odds all over again.

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