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Kelly's retirement another sign of changing of the guard in Cork football

The 31 year-old made his debut for the Rebels in 2008.

Patrick Kelly Patrick Kelly has brought his Cork career to a close. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

THE RETIREMENT OF brilliant playmaker Patrick Kelly severs another link with Cork’s 2010 All-Ireland football triumph.

He becomes the third player who was part of that September success over Down, to leave the inter-county scene behind since Cork’s 2016 season concluded and before their 2017 campaign commenced.

Last October attacker Daniel Goulding announced that he was retiring and in November Fintan Goold called time on his career.

The departure of Kelly was not unexpected. Injuries have been a huge source of frustration for him in recent seasons. His last appearance came when he was sprung from the bench in Cork’s qualifier loss to Donegal last July.

Leo McLoone and Paddy Kelly Donegal's Leo McLoone in action against Cork's Patrick Kelly Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Since then it was known the Ballincollig man was mulling over whether to commit again for 2017 and the decision to hang up his boots was confirmed in this morning’s Irish Examiner.

Kelly arrived on the senior stage in the wake of Cork’s winter of discontent, a student in Limerick at the time who was called up for a trial game in February 2008, when newly installed boss Conor Counihan started assembling a squad.

The following month he made his league debut against Westmeath, by that summer he had got his first taste of championship football as a substitute against Limerick and by 2009 he had established himself, making his first championship start in that Munster semi-final against Kerry.

His underage CV had hinted at his potential with three Munster U21 wins on the bounce between 2004 and 2006.

Patrick Kelly and Peter O'Leary Kelly won three Munster U21 football medals with Cork Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Kelly’s senior career can be neatly split into two sections. That first phase of his career until the end of 2012 saw him establish himself as a creative talent pulling the strings in the Cork half-forward line.

He picked up eight major honours and there was a series of standout displays in big games – bagging 0-2 in the 2009 All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone, notching the same tally and proving central to the victory over Dublin twelve months later, before being at the hub of Cork’s thrilling league final comeback win over Dublin in 2011.

Kelly won an All-Ireland senior medal for Cork against Down in 2010 Source: Cathal Noonan

The problem proved to be the second part of his career, a time when Cork football was on the slide and Kelly himself was cursed by injuries.

His lengthy time on the treatment table was encapsulated by the fact that Cork played 17 championship games between 2013 and 2016, with Kelly only starting five of them while he didn’t feature at all in five games.

“It’s just the hips, the whole time,” outlined Kelly, when speaking to The42 last summer.

“I had two hip operations there a couple of years ago. It’s just the hard running, it’s hard to keep fit with it.

“The last couple of years I’ve had spells where I’ve been pretty fit. But again fit in training is one thing, but when you’re not getting the championship games, it’s hard to throw a fella in.”

The departure is further evidence of the shift in the Cork football landscape. Of the 20 players who saw game time in that 2010 decider, there are only seven still available to the Cork management – Eoin Cadogan, Michael Shields, Aidan Walsh, Alan O’Connor, Paul Kerrigan, Donncha O’Connor and Colm O’Neill.

Of that sextet Walsh has just returned to the football fold from the Cork hurlers, while Shields was released from the squad last summer before linking up again this pre-season.

Ahead of a campaign where Cork are contemplating life in Division 2 of the league for the first time in eight years, the retirements are a reminder of the stark change of fortunes for the county since the trophy-laden era of 2009-2012.

Kelly, Goulding and Goold leaving mean Cork’s dressing-room has been further stripped of experience. There has been a definite changing of the guard.

Cork’s most recent championship win came last July in Longford. Kelly came on in that game at the break as they trailed and faced the prospect of an ignominious qualifier exit.

His fingerprints were all over Cork’s second-half revival that afternoon. Selector Eoin O’Neill described him to The42 afterwards as a ‘genius’.

Patrick Kelly (front 6th from left) before Cork's game last summer against Longford Source: Tom Beary/INPHO

Dublin’s Mossy Quinn – working as a pundit that day for Newstalk’s Off The Ball – praised the brilliance of Kelly’s disguised pass that placed Ian Maguire for the goal that ensured victory.

It was an insight in to what Kelly could still offer. Injury curtailed his ability to produce more of that in recent seasons and his comments after that game pointed to what hampered the latter part of his career.

“This modern game doesn’t suit old fellas any more! It’s nice to get on because you’d be frustrated when you’re not getting on and you’re not starting.

“I played no league this year. It feels pretty good now the last couple of months but the modern game is up and down the pitch. It’s about trying to get as fit as possible and seeing can I get in.”

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