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'Hopefully if we plague him enough he might come home' - Kelly on absent Clare stars and his 2020 brilliance

Tony Kelly reflects on the 2020 season after Clare’s championship exit.

Tony Kelly in action for Clare against Waterford last Saturday.
Tony Kelly in action for Clare against Waterford last Saturday.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

CLARE’S STAR PLAYER Tony Kelly would be happy to see this year’s provincial hurling knockout and All-Ireland qualifier system retained as he enjoyed the ‘cut-throat’ nature of it.

The last two years have seen a round-robin format in Munster and Leinster with 2020 adopting a changed structure due to the late start for the championship.

Kelly’s Clare team bowed out at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage last Saturday against Waterford after a couple of qualifier wins in recent weeks. There is still no firm decision yet on the GAA inter-county plans for 2021.

“I would have been a big advocate for the group system when it came in,” said Kelly after he was today named the PWC GAA/GPA player of the month for November.

“But having played in it and I’m a fan of the qualifier system. It’s more cut-throat. I definitely like that you get a second chance but I like the structure of it.

“Definitely, it gets rid of one dead rubber game coming towards the end. Going back to this structure, you’d maybe have more of an emphasis on the league. Because (in the round robin) you’re trying not to over-do it in the league because you know you have such an intense period of championship coming.”

After seeing Clare’s season draw to a halt, Kelly is hopeful a couple of their leading figures will bounce back from injury and he has not lost hope they can get 2018 All-Star Peter Duggan back from Australia.

“John will definitely be back, he was near enough. Colm is close enough to being fully fit as well, come January or February time. Then you’re hoping that Peter Duggan gets sick of Australia and comes home.

“The old lockdown restrictions aren’t helping our case to bring him home here especially when they aren’t locked down out in Australia. I’m trying to convince him at the minute that we’ll be out of lockdown soon enough and to come home in the new year. Hopefully if we plague him enough he might come home.

“You can’t hold it against anyone going travelling. Some lads want to experience, other lads don’t. Look at the life he’s living out there now with very few restrictions, it would make you jealous being in Ireland at the minute.”

pwc-gaa-gpa-player-of-the-month-in-hurling-november-2020 Tony Kelly with his award after the PWC-GAA-GPA player of the month for November. Source: Harry Murphy/SPORTSFILE

Kelly damaged his ankle in last Saturday’s game and while he is in a moonboot for the second time in a few years, he does not envisage a long spell on the sidelines.

“I went for a scan on Monday, I just have ligament damage done on the outside of the ankle. I’m in a boot for a week or two now, then after that try and build it up for four or five weeks.

“I got caught in Conor Cleary in the warm up, doing a tackling shooting drill, and it was grand after that. Then maybe five minutes into the game, over near the sideline, whatever way I landed, I just completely went over on it and that’s when I did damage it.”

tony-kelly-receives-medical-attention Tony Kelly receiving medical attention last Saturday. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Heading away for a year is not something Kelly has considered. The 26-year-old recorded 1-53 recorded across four championship games in the last month and while he has been in a terrific run of form but is at pains to point out the input of his Clare colleagues.

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“A lot was made of the scores you’d be putting up. I know frees have to be put over the bar but it inflates it that bit more. try to tweak it some bit, try to come back. I can’t sing enough praises to the lads we have up front in terms workrate. Often, the easiest bit of the puzzle is to put it over the bar.

“The contribution we got from Cathal Malone every single day he went out was exceptional. He’s probably the perfect modern-day wing-forward, getting up the field and working hard. Shane O’Donnell I thought had an exceptional year, it mightn’t have shown every day on the scoreboard but his work-rate, setting up of scores and winning frees was extraordinary.

“And we saw the last day what Shanagher was able to do as well. If we can keep him injury-free, he’s an excellent option for us going into next year.

“It probably is the best hurling I’ve played for Clare. You’re trying to come back next year with the same form or try to improve it. Brian  (Lohan) will give it to you straight as well, where you’re doing well, doing badly, what you need to improve on.

brian-lohan-celebrates-after-the-game Brian Lohan celebrates after Clare's win over Wexford. Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

“He’s an absolute legend from all of us inside playing. Every one in Clare idolises the team of the 90s.  I was used to having him in UL. I knew what to expect from him. All our lads are enjoying the setup.”

Kelly was impressed with Waterford’s performance, a team who have strikingly improved after struggling for a couple of seasons.

“They’ve  definitely improved, they’ve a new approach. Lot of strength and conditioning work I’d say. They looked fit, big, strong. We all know their players. they’re well able to hurl. We can have no complaints, Waterford were better than us on Saturday evening.”

“I do think they’ll be extremely dangerous the weekend as well for Kilkenny. They’re the only team so far in the country to run Limerick close as well so they’re definitely hurling well and better than they were last year.”

The hurling focus now turns to this weekend’s Croke Park showdowns with Waterford, Kilkenny, Galway and Clare the last four teams in the hunt. 

eanna-murphy-and-jason-flynn-celebrate-after-the-game Galway players Eanna Murphy and Jason Flynn celebrate after their win over Tipperary. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I said it from the outset that I fancied Kilkenny even before the season started but having seen what Galway have brought to it, if I was to tip a winner I would probably say Galway. I think they’ve great balance in their team in terms of age profile, guys who are 31, 32 still hurling some of the best hurling like Joe Canning and David Burke.

“I do they think they’ll be able to match Limerick’s physical strength and it’ll come down then to forward power and scoring power. I’m expecting two tight games. I would (go) Kilkenny Saturday and I wouldn’t be surprised if the other one went to extra-time. We have had no extra-time game this year so I’m expecting one of them at some stage but just Galway by a point or two.”

  • PwC GAA/GPA Hurler of the Month for November, Tony Kelly (Clare) was pictured with his award today at Ballyea GAA Club in Clare.

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Fintan O'Toole

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