Tony Kelly’s down but he’s not out.
Saturday was an absolute sickener but, what else can you do, he’s back in with Ballyea and it won’t be long before he’s back doing what he loves. You have to get back on the horse at some stage.
It’s put to him as he collects his player of the month award for June that, after such a rollercoaster couple of weeks, a break might do him good. A few weeks in America. Something different.
But he scoffs at the notion and, as a man who lives and breathes hurling, Kelly is inclined to focus instead on winning another county championship with Ballyea, and ensuring that something like Saturday’s Croke Park capitulation will never happen again.
“I missed enough of club action last year, so I’ll be going nowhere this year.
“We go back in with the club now this week, we’re out in a couple of weeks time with the club. I suppose you could dwell on it but the main thing for us is we’ve just got to try and get better, individually, collectively, we all have to get better in every facet of the game really.
“There’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself or dwelling on it too much, you have to get straight back up and get back into it with your club, brush yourself down and look forward to a new inter-county season even though it’s probably a good few months. That’s the nature of it. We’ve had crushing defeats before, and you’ve just got to try and get better and keep going.”
It all means that, as another year gets away from them, Clare are now nine years without an All-Ireland but Kelly says that their desire to win is only getting stronger by the year.
“Every hurler in the country is chasing it and only 33 or 34 can get at it every year. That’s the challenge that you like – you like trying to improve yourself and getting better and trying to improve yourself again and having another cut off it next year. That’s just the nature of hurling. It’s like a drug, you get addicted to trying to get to an All-Ireland and win an All-Ireland.
“We’re no different in Clare, we’re trying to get back there. That 2013 team, I think there’s only five or six of the lads left from that panel that was there in 2013. So it’s a completely new group but you’re basically trying to just chase that feeling. At the minute we just have to try to get better and improve and have another cut off it next year.
“It actually gets stronger. The longer you go without it, it gets stronger.”
Kelly himself was in contention for Hurler of the Year before Saturday, when he had his quietest game in aages. He had Mikey Butler for company in Croke Park and, as no stranger to a man-marker, Kelly says that the standard of defending in hurling is only getting better and better.
“It doesn’t change your approach to the game but in terms of what you’re trying to do yourself, it’s something you get used to I suppose. When I was younger it was probably more difficult to get used to it but the more experience you get of it, you try to adapt to it in the game. The biggest thing is that you’ve got to try to be patient with it but obviously there are such good backs in the country at the minute. A few of our own lads are playing outstanding and then every other team has probably three or four outstanding backs.
“Not only from a marking point of view but from how the game’s developed, if you’re looking at a lad in the full back line now that are out and out hurlers and they’re probably touching the ball more than any other player on the field. So definitely in terms of how the game has changed. I do think that for the backs around the country, we haven’t seen hurlers like them in terms of out and out ability on and off the ball, in a number of years.”
— The GAA (@officialgaa) June 5, 2022
We’ll finish with a positive though, and that was Kelly’s line-ball in the Munster final which will undoubtedly go down as one of the moments of the championship.
“It’s something you don’t really think about too much when you’re put in that position. You just have to back yourself. If it goes wide you’re probably an eejit for having a go at it and if it goes over it’s great. But for a moment like that you have to have confidence in your ability. If you overthink you’ll probably mess it up or it won’t go to plan. It’s one of those things where it’s more off the cuff than anything to be honest.”