By Noel Dundon
Tipperary Captain Eoin Kelly has had a relatively injury free run for the 2011 season and he is revelling in it.
The Mullinahone maestro shot 2-6 in the Munster Final and would have been a contender for Man of the Match had Lar Corbett not bagged 4-4. Flash back to 2010 when Eoin was struggling with a persistent back problem. He struggled to get to the pace of games early on and needed a huge amount of patience and hard work to be able to continue through the season. It all paid off, and his flawless performance in the All-Ireland Final was capped by a wonderful acceptance speech after he lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
Strength work, a sensible approach to training and preparation, and a very professional backroom set-up, have all helped Eoin this season and he is the first to lavish praise on those who deserve it. Indeed, Tipp have been lucky enough to escape major injuries while others have run into problems across all sectors.
“That would be down to our backroom team. If guy has a tight hamstring, he is not training, whereas before a lad might have trained. There is good communication between players, backroom team, management and the physical trainer. You put a lot of it down to the backroom team. They know when a player is carrying a niggle and whether it is right for them not to train or play. There is no point in training if you have those kinds of niggles. It comes down to one word - communication - between everybody, and we have that within our squad,” Eoin said this week.
Tipp, over the last few seasons have embraced the concept of body scuplting; increasing core strength; ensuring that every muscle group, fibre, ligament and limbs, are as strong as they possibly can be to play the game of hurling. That doesn’t necessarily mean bulking up too much - you still have to be able to carry the muscle around the field at speed - in other words Arnold Schearzenegger wouldn’t be of much use at full forward; midfield ? - forget about it.
“We are no different than any team that has sights on winning - physically, you have to be built up and I think Tipp are strong, but Dublin are equally as strong, so we know it is going to be some physical battle on Sunday. I’ve said that, it was something we had to do, Kilkenny were just ploughing teams out of it. Thankfully we got up to that standard. That’s where you have to start, and looking at Limerick this year, I thought they were one of the fittest teams in the hurling championship. That’s where you have to start - November, December, into January and February – if you’re not at that (physical) standard you don’t have a chance, even if you have the players. Thankfully in Tipp, Kilkenny, Dublin and so on, we have those players, Waterford too – no point being just physical either if you don’t have the hurlers, and Dublin have them now as well,” Eoin says
Enjoying his first year of married life - his wife Sarah is a sister of U-21 selector, William Maher (Ballingarry) - Eoin is well up to speed on the Dublin team. He hurled against many of them during his days with St Kieran’s College, and he has been impressed with the many in which the Dubs have performed this year.
“We know what Dublin are capable of and we just have to be ready for it. This is an All Ireland semi-final and Dublin are looking at this as their chance of getting into that All Ireland.
“Anthony Daly is well experienced enough and so is Declan Ryan not to look ahead of themselves. It’s an All Ireland semi-final and that is it. Dublin are mentally stronger than they have been before. That was evident against Limerick when they clawed their way back into the game but Dublin did just enough to get through and I think Anthony Daly would have to be happy as they didn’t perform to their highest level that day. I am sure he is delighted that they performed to their best, got a win and are now in an All Ireland semi-final and I am sure there will be an increase in their performance the next day and we have to make sure our own performance looks after itself and is good enough to match it.
“Conal Keaney is a massive player and is a big loss to them. I am sure they are using it as motivation.
“Dublin have developed a squad of 24-25 players that they could use and one lad that springs to mind is Daire Plunkett -when he comes on his pace is unbelievable. They have lost a few key players but they seem to be dealing with it okay. They will use it to motivate themselves.
“Tomas Brady too - he’s a big loss, a huge player, but Anthony Daly, when he went to Dublin, wanted to get 25 players he could work with; he’s down three now but he still has those 22 guys that I’m sure he won’t be afraid to throw them into the action – a few of those lads have done well at underage, Leinster minor titles, ” he says.
Eoin is not concerned about the five week lay-off. In fact, the Tipp players have embraced it and will certainly not be using it as an excuse. “You can harp on about this five weeks, use it as an excuse – I don’t think we’re going to use it as an excuse. It’s too easy for teams to complain about five weeks, and alright you’d have liked a game in between, but it’s not there and we just have to be ready, be focused for the Dublin game, and that’s it. Guys have played with their clubs, we’ve had a good few training sessions that we’re happy with – we’re happy that we’re right-minded, that’s the important thing from our side.”
So, does Eoin like playing agianst Dublin?
“I played against them in the league this year and last, and you would, yes. To be honest with you, what you train for, you’ll get it against Dublin - a physical team, well able to hurl.
“They’ve adopted the Kilkenny style with their use of the ball.
“I enjoy playing against them, they’re a good physical hurling team now, up there with the standard Kilkenny set over the last few years, and thankfully we in Tipperary have reached that standard as well. That’s why Dublin won the league this year; that’s why they’re in the last four of the All-Ireland championship. They’re a physical team but they’re also able to play hurling. That’s want inter-county hurling is, they’re the teams you want to play against,” he says.