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'You're passing on your experience. You've been there and been through it all'

Eoin Kelly discusses his role in the Tipperary set-up this year, which was more than just a free-taking coach.

Eoin Kelly helped launch eir Sport’s new season of action today at the Sport Ireland Campus.
Eoin Kelly helped launch eir Sport’s new season of action today at the Sport Ireland Campus.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

A KEY MEMBER of Liam Sheedy’s 27-man backroom team for their All-Ireland winning campaign was legendary forward Eoin Kelly.

For Sheedy to operate with such a large management set-up was a sign of his willingness to be a facilitator and oversee the entire operation. 

Kelly’s official title was free-taking coach but he helped out with various other aspects of team preparation, offering words of advice to players along the journey. When it comes from one of the greatest players of his generation, that encouragement goes a long way.

Kelly, of course, has previous with Sheedy, having captained Tipp to the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2010. He also acted as hurley carrier and water boy when Sheedy managed the minors to the All-Ireland success four years earlier.

On his work with the free-takers Kelly said his role involved “passing on your experience.” It clearly worked, with Jason Forde nailing every one of his 10 shots at the posts in the final, including four frees and two 65s.

“It’s stuff you would have picked up as a player,” explains Kelly.

“Probably just relaxing the shoulders and all that, that’s something I picked up later on in my career. What’s the best advice I ever got? It was Nicky English when I started taking the frees.

“On the first day in 2001 he says, ‘Just lift it and strike it as clean and as hard as you can and I don’t care where it goes after that.’ And I think that day he just took a load of pressure off me.

“Because these inter-county free-takers…they’re fairly good at them. They probably only go wrong the odd time if they maybe just don’t lift it properly. So it’s back to basics. 

“The mental side of it then – you would have often stood up to a free and maybe go, ‘I don’t feel great.’ So you just break your train of thought and just go back to the process.

jason-forde Jason Forde stands over a free in the All-Ireland final. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Every player has his own process he goes through. That might be different for you and me. At the end of the day if you’re being earmarked as an inter-county free-taker that means that you’re doing something right from 16, 17 as far as minor and U21. 

“The big thing is just to get taking them, once you get taking them then you realise you’re the free-taker and it’s just another job – just another job you do for the team.

“Tipperary are probably blessed that they have a couple of free-takers, not just one. Jason was the man this year and I thought there was definitely the latter stages of the championship in Croke Park he delivered nearly a 10 out of 10 performance. Definitely, in the All-Ireland final he didn’t miss one.

“The further on you go on in the championship you’re going to be coming across 60,000 or 70,000 in stadiums, on All-Ireland final day 82,000 in the stadium.  

“Sometimes it’s easier even in Croke Park striking the ball clearer and have a clearer vision of the goalposts when it’s All-Ireland final day because you just see the two posts and that’s it.

“You often hear guys referencing Hill 16 and when the stadium isn’t full you can see the concrete and it can be offputting. On All-Ireland final day, you just see the posts on both sides because it’s jam-packed and it’s actually maybe even a bit more comfortable for a free-taker because you can just see the posts. Then you just get into your process – your lifting and striking.” 

seamus-kennedy Séamus Kennedy drives over a shot from distance. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Not alone did he operate closely with the free-takers but after the All-Ireland final a number of Premier players spoke about the important guidance Kelly offered up to them throughout the campaign.

Wing-back Seamus Kennedy scored two points from distance during the final win over Kilkenny, on his finest out in a Tipperary jersey.

Writing in his All-Ireland diary for the Irish Examiner, Kennedy noted: “Eoin Kelly had actually said it to me, that I might get a few chances, the way they are set up.

“Told me to have a few shots at training and think about it. Eoin was an absolute hero of mine growing up. So to be getting advice like that off Eoin Kelly is nice.”

On the nuggets of advice he gave to Tipperary players, Kelly said:  “You’ve been there and been through it all.

“It might just be a quick word with somebody and you mightn’t even think you’re giving much advice.

“Who Liam had involved this year all would have experienced it from a different aspect.

“Eamon O’Shea, as coach and manager, Tommy as a player, Darragh Egan as a player. The one thing with Liam Sheedy, be it a free-taking coach or goalkeeping coach he was going to leave no stone turned that’s the way he manages.

“He covers every angle. With myself that’s what he was probably doing as well. It’s nice when it all works out at the end of the season and Tipp run out winners.

“That’s when he can take a bow probably and just say he left no stone unturned and he didn’t in fairness to him.”

liam-sheedy-lifts-the-trophy-with-members-of-the-backroom-staff Liam Sheedy lifts the trophy with members of the backroom team. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Highly-rated strength & conditioning coach Cairbre Ó Cairealláin had a major impact on the physique of the players after he was head-hunted by Sheedy.

The Belfast native underlined his commitment by moving near Thurles to work solely with the Premier squad. Brendan Maher credited Ó Cairealláin with aiding his recovery from cruciate surgery during their early morning one-on-one rehab sessions.

It only emerged in the days after the final that renowned performance coach Gary Keegan, who worked with the Irish boxers and Dublin footballers, was also involved in the Premier set-up.

Kelly admits the backroom team numbers have swelled hugely even since he stopped playing in 2014.

“If there was 12 or 14 when we were there, there’s probably another 10 added to it,” he says. “I suppose that comes down to your manager as well. Liam Sheedy covers all the angles.

“He facilities, that’s the word he uses himself, he facilities for the players and they gave it back in buckets. Tipp not only did they have the hurling but they were probably one of the best prepared Tipperary teams and that was proven all season.

“The key to Liam Sheedy’s management too is after the Munster final defeat that he circles the wagons, similar to 2010. He had that experience to call on and just got them back going again. You have to pick them up and get them back believing and that’s one of his strong points as well.”

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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