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Tony Kelly: 'Having Brian Cody and the Kilkenny lads’ experience is obviously a plus'

The Treaty are chasing three in-a-row, and Kilkenny stand in their way.

Kilkenny boss Brian Cody.
Kilkenny boss Brian Cody.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

CLARE STAR TONY Kelly reckons the experience of Kilkenny and their iconic manager Brian Cody makes them the best-placed team to challenge a Limerick team eyeing four titles in five years.

“It’s a long time ago [the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final loss in 2019]. Limerick might be using it as a score to settle themselves in terms of Kilkenny being the last team to beat them. In the last three or four championships, Kilkenny are the only team that have beaten them.

“Having Brian Cody and his experience and the Kilkenny lads’ experience is obviously a plus. But likewise, I’m sure the Limerick lads are looking at it as a score to settle. So it kind of balances itself out in terms of trying to find that edge.

Depending on what county you’re in; if you’re in the Kilkenny camp you’re probably going in with no fear. ‘We’ve beaten these lads before and this is how we did it. Can we execute it and be better?’ If you’re from Limerick you’re building up the narrative of ‘We’ve a score to settle with these lads.’ It can work in both teams’ favours.

“Obviously whichever team wins it will look like that’s the narrative that was a key indicator in it. But once the ball is thrown in, things go out the window. They’re grand for the lads in the stand having an opinion on it, but from a player’s point-of-view, once the ball is thrown in or the warm-up starts, it’s focused on executing the game plan.”

Kelly has a unique insight having played both sides at the peak of their powers this summer — the Banner bowed out at the semi-final stage at the hands of the Cats, and brought John Kiely’s back-to-back champions to extra-time in the Munster final.

Asked how they compare as he was named PwC GAA/GPA Player of the Month for June in hurling last week, Kelly began:

“They’re similar. In terms of their physical conditioning, they’re very similar. In terms of power, size, even speed, they’re very similar. They’re able to mix up the way they play. They can play long ball, short ball as well, both can easily do it. They’re easily able to adapt the game to cater for that.

“Limerick, they’re obviously the standard-bearer in the country the last four or five years. I do think Kilkenny are extremely dangerous this year. I think they’ve improved in every game. Especially having played them at the weekend, I know we were below par but they’re still a very, very good outfit.

If you were to call the All-Ireland at the minute, I think it’s literally 50/50. The last couple of All-Irelands, you probably wouldn’t be able to say that. You probably would have favoured Limerick more. I do think Kilkenny are very, very good.

“Limerick are dealing with a couple of injuries, if they can get them right, the likes of Cian Lynch and Peter Casey, if they can get them on the field from the start… they’re obviously strengthening their bench well. I do think it’s gonna be very, very close.”

pwc-gaagpa-player-of-the-month-awards PwC GAA/GPA Player of the Month for June in hurling, Tony Kelly of Clare, with his award at PwC HQ. Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

The 2013 All-Ireland winner and Hurler and Young Hurler of the Year thinks Kilkenny are “right there” with Limerick in terms of physical conditioning, but believes Lynch, if fit, could swing the outcome towards the three in-a-row chasing Treaty.

The reigning Hurler of the Year made his comeback appearance as a second-half substitute in the semi-final win over Galway, 10 weeks after sustaining a hamstring injury in the Munster championship victory over Waterford.

“We all know how good he is,” Kelly said. “He’s one of the best hurlers in the country.

Probably the strength of Limerick though is they have a lot of Cian Lynch-standard hurlers. We’ve seen how they’ve coped without the likes of him and Peter Casey, another one who’s probably up there as one of the top forwards in the country as well.

“They’ve great players all over the field. They’re not just reliant on one player, but obviously if they have Cian and Peter fit and ready to go for it for the All-Ireland final, it’d be massive plus for Limerick. Both starting on the field and then obviously strengthening their bench as well, they’re two lads that have been playing all along for them.

“Definitely, if Cian Lynch is performing like we know he can, obviously he’ll be extremely difficult to stop and so will Limerick.”

Whatever way it goes, Kelly will be watching closely. “I’ll be a keen observer in terms of what teams are doing and who comes on top,” he smiles. 

Throw-in at Croke Park on Sunday is 3.30pm, and it’s live on RTÉ and Sky Sports.

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Emma Duffy

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