"He almost burned out. He was on the go for two years, people were doubting him"
Jamesie O'Connor had seen this coming.
In conversation with the Clare legend last month, he let us know that Tony Kelly was on the move. Teaching alongside the Ballyea man in St Flannan's, Jamesie could see first hand the mindset and indeed the work the 2013 Hurler of the Year was putting into his game.
"He’s delivered for his club so consistently and if Clare are to be successful this year, Tony Kelly is going to have to play well," said Jamesie prior to the Limerick game.
"But I know Tony Kelly had a lot of work done earlier in the year, he was really intent on stepping up this year and really proving himself. Last year, he’ll say himself that he didn’t hit the heights that he wanted to but he seemed to be working really hard over the winter, into the spring, and he was hurling well for Clare so hopefully now we’ll see the best of him, because we will need to..."
That they have. It's hardly healthy that the Banner have been so reliant on their star turn but when a man is so clearly on fire, averaging 0-16 per game, it would be foolish not to send every ball his way.
Tony Kelly doesn't have a bad side, he has a second one 🔥pic.twitter.com/oKnHc0s6R1
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) April 4, 2020
In recent days, a lot of people have gone on as if we haven't seen Tony Kelly at all since 2013, as if he was a man in hiding. But a man in hiding wouldn't lead his club to an All-Ireland final and to another county title again two years later.
The expectations surrounding a 19-year-old Hurler of the Year were never really going to be exceeded, but he did inspire Clare to a League title in 2016, and an All-Ireland semi-final in 2018. Won two Fitzgibbon Cups with UL in 2016 and 2018.
Yes, Clare have flattered to deceive and while Tony Kelly will admit himself that he wasn't on top form every day, he was still one of their most consistent players, and a player who offered flashes of breath-taking brilliance that you just wouldn't see from others.
The only difference this year really is the incredible consistency he has brought to boot.
Tony Kelly v Limerick (0-17, 0-9f)
Tony Kelly v Laois (0-13, 0-9f)
Tony Kelly v Wexford (1-15, 0-9f)
Different gravy ☕️☕️ pic.twitter.com/f5FoimiTzJ
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) November 14, 2020
On Monday's GAA Hour, Damien Hayes reasoned that the extensive club-runs with Ballyea and indeed the college hurling with UL, may have taken their toll on Kelly in recent times.
"Kelly was under a bit of pressure. I've been saying it for years that he's been a phenomenal hurler, he's been one of the best in the country. He's been in unbelievable form with Ballyea and I suppose, Ballyea going all the way to the club All-Ireland, that year, he almost got a burn-out. He was on the go for two years, people were doubting him but the performances that he's putting in this year are incredible. He's the first name on the All-Star team, he has it nailed."
"His goal was incredible. On his way to the goals, he caught the ball and he brought his left hand into his chest and he took four or five of the longest strides to get into full motion and then he put it into the bottom corner of the net. That was it. Game over."
That's Tony Kelly. Poetry in motion.
Eoin Larkin was just as effusive in his praise.
"It's unbelievable watching him play. It doesn't say a lot for the Clare team that he's getting three quarters of their scores, but it's freakish what he's doing and if they get to a semi-final, he could be the Hurler of the Year as-well."
You can listen to The GAA Hour discussion with Colm Parkinson, Eoin Larkin and Damien Hayes here.