'Things have got messy in other counties but that was one thing he didn't want to happen in Clare'

Shining with his club Ballyea, Tony Kelly is set for a new era in Clare.

AIB GAA Munster Senior Hurling Club Final Media Day Clare and Ballyea hurler Tony Kelly Source: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

IT WAS DAVY Fitzgerald that handed Tony Kelly his senior championship bow back in July 2012 against Dublin.

Source: MarcasOCallanain/YouTube

It was Davy who was at the helm when Kelly was the shining light that swept to Hurler of the Year in 2013 as Clare got their hands on the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

And it was Davy who Kelly was in close contact in his role as joint-captain when Fitzgerald brought his spell as Banner boss to an end in September.

In his departing statement, Fitzgerald spoke of his request that the Clare joint-captains (Kelly and Cian Dillon) would ‘ascertain the opinions of the wider panel on whether they would like to change a voice’.

With opinion split in the Clare squad about whether a change was necessary, Fitzgerald walked away and Kelly feels Clare have benefited that the county did not undergo a bitter and protracted saga.

“The precedent is that a lot of things have got messy in other counties but that was one thing he didn’t want to have happen in Clare,” says Kelly.

“He just laid out exactly, ‘Ye go back to the players, talk to them, and when ye come back to me I’ll go away and make a decision’. Everyone knew what was going on throughout the process.

“Everything was spot on. There was no real drama out of it really, to be honest.”

Fitzgerald is the only senior manager Kelly has played for with Clare. Despite the setbacks in recent seasons and their slide since they reached the hurling summit in 2013, Kelly won’t easily forget the days in the sun.

Davy Fitzgerald celebrates with Tony Kelly and John Conlon Davy Fitzgerald and Tony Kelly celebrating Clare's 2013 All-Ireland final replay win Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“He was the first senior inter-county management a lot of us had coming from minor, U21. He brings a level of professionalism that you wouldn’t be used to. We’re used to it now.

“But coming from an U21 or minor setup it was something you’d see on television with professional athletes, be it soccer or American sports like American Football.

“He won an All-Ireland with us and a League with us. I suppose a lot of people probably forget that as well.

“It hasn’t been great over the last two or three years, but he still brought us to places where a lot of people probably wouldn’t have brought us, you know?”

16 days after departing from Clare, Fitzgerald was installed in a new hotseat with Wexford.

Davy Fitzgerald Davy Fitzgerald at the recent Wexford county senior final Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“I think he wanted to get back into it,” remarks Kelly.

“Probably a fresh, new challenge, and he’s got that with Wexford now as well. He’ll bring something new to them. I wasn’t really that surprised with it, he’s that sort of a man.

“He gets straight back into it, he doesn’t want to rest when it comes to hurling at all.”

Kelly’s current hurling focus is on next Sunday’s assault on an AIB Munster senior hurling club title with Ballyea against Glen Rovers.

AIB GAA Munster Senior Hurling Club Final Media Day Tony Kelly and Patrick Horgan ahead of Sunday's Munster senior club hurling final Source: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Whenever that club campaign draws to a halt, he’ll be renewing acquaintances again with Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor – the duo that Kelly won eight underage titles with – in their new positions in the Clare senior camp.

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In Kelly’s view, the collective goal must be for Clare to reach a Munster final, something that has eluded the county at this level since 2008.

“They are proven at underage but it is another step up for them and us now again. As much as we’d love them to (have instant success) that’s not the way it works.

“They are going to come with something fresh and something new and it’s going to be a lot of hard work.

“That’s the main one for us, to try and get that Munster final. That’s the big stumbling block we’ve come across in the last three years.

Tony Kelly and Darragh Fives Tony Kelly and Clare lost out to Waterford in June Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“You could be turned out on your ear if you only have a dip in your performance, so the Munster championship has been the real disappointment I think over the last three or four years.”

One plus for the Clare hurling squad in 2017 will be that they can call on the undivided attention of Podge Collins, who is ploughing his energies solely into hurling after juggling dual roles this season.

Podge Collins Clare hurler Podge Collins Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“It’s a big plus. From talking to him, he just wanted to concentrate on one of them and give his all.

“He’s probably coming into that stage of his career, he wants to hit the heights, get the best performance and I think he’s trying to do that now by just playing one.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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