By Brian McDonnell
EOIN Kelly has played a staggering fifty-seven times for Tipperary in championship hurling.
Against both Cork and Waterford the Mullinahone man was introduced as a substitute on the Declan Ryan’s team.
It’s a predicament Eoin Kelly is not used to finding himself in, but he’s prepared to work and is still eager to make a contribution.
“The team is not picked for the next day so I’m no different to a lot of the players. There are places up for grabs so I’m hoping to start,” Eoin Kelly told the Tipperary Star.
“I have been going well enough in training and I did well enough when I came on against Waterford so I was very happy with that. But, look, you saw that only for the few subs coming on there against Limerick we might not be sitting here talking about an All-Ireland semi-final. We are after developing a squad. Thankfully we have a very strong panel and I think a lot of other counties would like to have our panel and our twenty that come on. The subs have all made an impact when they have come on, but to be honest with you I am training to start the next day.”
Given that Eoin Kelly has been such a brilliant competitor since making his senior debut for Tipperary in 2000 you would suspect that the 2010 captain would not like sentiment to play any part in whether he makes the starting team or not. Still though Eoin Kelly admits that he will be disappointed if he doesn’t force his way into Declan Ryan’s plans.
“You would be,” Eoin Kelly admitted.
“You have put in a lot of work since November or December. You would be disappointed when you’re not started and anyone that says different is totally telling you a lie. You are disappointed when you don’t start.
“I started against Limerick and I didn’t perform that day. Maybe one or two things that day and I could have had a good game - I thought I was entitled to a penalty that I didn’t get just before I came off. If I had got the penalty and buried that the confidence would be up and it could have turned the game. These things happen and it’s about how you deal with them. I would like to think that I reacted well when I did come off. I have been very positive in training,” Eoin Kelly added.
“The way I look at it I’m only thirty years of age. I love doing what I’m doing and that’s it. They guys that are in there are playing well at the minute and you can’t complain. I’m not the only guy who is pushing very hard to get in,” Eoin Kelly admitted.
Eoin Kelly failed to score from play against Dublin and Kilkenny in 2011, but he refuses to blame those performances or a series of injuries for the fact that he isn’t an automatic starter on the Tipperary team.
“Some people judge hurling and I don’t know what they are looking for,” Kelly said.
“I was never the fastest. I suppose a lot of people just look at last year’s Kilkenny game and last year’s Dublin game and they write off a couple of players after that. That’s the way some people do it. But you have to believe in yourself,” Eoin Kelly insisted.
“We came up against a seven or eight-man defence against Dublin last year. It was hard for any forward to play and even in the All-Ireland we came up against a Kilkenny team that was tactically very aware on the day from a defensive point of view. And, they got it right on the day,” Eoin Kelly added.
“But the real hurling man will see the other sides to a guy’s play. The guys that know nothing about hurling will just see you scoring and scoring and scoring. But the real hurling man will see you making a run to the corner, maybe holding up the play or maybe being a bit more physical and the ball spilling off you for the likes of Shane Bourke, Lar Corbett and Noel McGrath to come on to it. If you can get out of the way and maybe bring a defender with you and create space I think you are doing a good job. I think we have that in our team. I think we have it in our squad that guys are unselfish and they are making runs for other players.”
A few weeks prior to the Leinster hurling final, a game Kilkenny lost to Galway, Tipperary had faced Anthony Cunningham’s improving side in a challenge game. And, lost.
“I had seen Galway play Tipp in a challenge match and they were more up for it this year, they were more physical,” Eoin Kelly explained.
“They brought that physicality in the league through to maybe one or two challenge matches and then they brought it into the Kilkenny game. They were absolutely awesome. Kilkenny got hit on the day. You go back to 2010 and we got hit by Cork. We bounced back that year so don’t be writing off Kilkenny this year. They are a serious outfit. They have a serious team and it will be a serious game, but we do believe that we can beat them.
“We know what we have to do. We feel that we didn’t perform in last year’s All-Ireland. We definitely didn’t for the first fifteen or twenty minutes. We were blown away. You have to match Kilkenny’s intensity from the off. If you don’t you are not going to be in the game. That’s something that Galway did. We did it previously and we feel that we have in our team to do it,” Eoin Kelly insisted.
When the Tipperary players in general and Eoin Kelly in particular consider the up-coming clash with Kilkenny it is understandable that thoughts immediately turn to the four-point defeat suffered at the hands of Brian Cody’s men in last year’s final.
“Everyone goes back to last year’s All-Ireland. Kilkenny got it right on the day. They beat us fair and square and we have no arguments with it. They were the better team on the day,” admitted Eoin Kelly.
“If you get the fine weather (next Sunday) you are going to get a serious, high-intensity game. Tipp-Kilkenny games have been like that for the last three years and they are a joy to watch I’m sure for the neutral. There is nothing given and nothing taken. It’s hard-hitting and to be honest with you the best team always nearly wins them. It’s as simple as that. Any time that we have been beaten by Kilkenny we have had no arguments,” Eoin Kelly said.
“Last year we met a Dublin team that had eight in defence, nine in defence and then we met a Kilkenny team that was tactically aware as well on the day of the All-Ireland,” Eoin Kelly explained.
“They probably got it right, but it doesn’t matter what you throw up.
“You just have to win your own ball and we didn’t win those duels in both of those games.
“So, our training has been geared towards winning those duels. That’s inter-county hurling and if you don’t win them there will be a man called in to try and win that duel. That’s the way it is. You just have to win your own ball at this level,” Eoin Kelly said.
While in conversation with the press last week Eoin Kelly also highlighted the 2009 National League final which Kilkenny won, but only after a titanic struggle with Tipperary.
Eoin Kelly highlighted the quality of the hurling in the game, but also what the Tipperary players took from that league final in terms of encouragement.
“It gave us belief,” Eoin Kelly explained.
“It gave us serious belief that we could compete, that we could be physical and that we could have intensity to our play.
“And, we can play ball as well which you have to be able to do. I think that gave us a shot in the arm that we needed,” Eoin Kelly said.
“We haven’t looked back from that. We mightn’t have delivered All-Irelands, but we have been fair consistent in Munster and it’s a good position to be in going into an All-Ireland semi-final.”