Clare keeper Kelly in line of fire

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Clare keeper Patrick Kelly behind captain Patrick Donnellan

THERE was certainly no danger of a first All-Ireland final appearance passing Patrick Kelly by anyway. As arguably the most central figure in Clare’s rollercoaster ride against the Rebels complete with crucial saves, contentious charges and that critical final puck-out, the Inagh/Kilnamona goalkeeper seemed to revel in the biggest game of his career.
“Out of the 15 lads that started, I think myself, Pat Donnellan and Brendan Bugler were the only three older lads that hadn’t experienced an All-Ireland final. We weren’t nervous and I don’t think the occasion got to us. 12 of the 15 guys had played in an All-Ireland either in ‘09 or last year and had been successful so we didn’t get involved in any outside issues, we just concentrated on our game.
“And in fairness to Davy, he kept us grounded for the few weeks before, there were no nerves and I think we showed that in our play. I’d say a lot of people were expecting us to be nervous or to get caught up in it but I don’t think we did on the day and hopefully it will be the same the next day.
“I suppose on my own performance, I think I did okay in parts but obviously as a goalkeeper, you pride yourself on not conceding goals so on the day I conceded three while my opposite number didn’t concede any. That’s one area I’m going to have to work on but to rub salt in the wounds, he came up and buried a 21 yard free. I know there’s the famous incident with the first ‘21 or whatever but look it happened and will it happen again the next day? You’ll have to wait and see…”
Oh yes, that 20 metre free, not many would have volunteered to stand in front of an Anthony Nash piledriver on the goal-line, not to mind charging at him. A rush of blood or a calculated decision?
“It wasn’t premeditated or preplanned, there was something in the media during the week whereby it was said that Davy influenced the decision but that was well wide of the mark to be honest. It was just something I came up with during the game, I’ve never done it before and I don’t know if i’ll ever do it again to be honest. It’s quite dangerous in ways when you think about it.
“If he hit you in a certain area, it could possibly seriously hurt you but I suppose that’s an issue that will have to be looked at. I’m sure that the powers that be will have a look at that at the end of the year because there has been a lot written in papers about it so they are going to have to look at it from both sides. From both the goalie coming out and from where the opposing player is striking the ball, the rule is going to have to be altered in some way.”
That’s for another day though, probably best to get the main protagonist’s interpretation of the current ruling.
“My views are pretty strong on that. I feel that once the person taking the ‘21 touches the ball, the goalie should be allowed attack the ball and from where I was, and I’ve looked at it over a lot of times since, I started my run on the line and when he touched the ball, it took three or four seconds for him to strike the ball so I can’t see any reason why I can’t attack the ball and block it with my body. That’s my view on it anyway.
“I’ll put it to you like this, you can take a free by striking the ball on the ground, that’s one movement so my view is that once he touches the ball, you should be allowed attack the ball.
“To be honest with you, it’s a grey area but look, all we have to do the next day is to concentrate on not giving away any handy 21 yard frees like they were given away the last day.”
That drama was merely a boy compared to the manly final act though. Fast forward to those excruciating minutes of injury-time with Clare somehow trailing by one and Kelly again taking centre stage…
“Once the sideline went away and went dead, I suppose a lot of people thought it was over. But to be honest with you, we played Cork in a relegation final down in Limerick and 71 minutes into the game, we were two points down and we didn’t panic on that day either. Tony Kelly popped up with a point and Colin Ryan got a free and I felt the ref was going to give us one more chance because I felt we deserved to get one more chance to be honest.
“I looked out and all the players were on my right hand side, the wind was kind of blowing across that way and on the left hand side there was Domhnall O’Donovan, and Stephen Moylan was on him. Domnhall is a big, physical imposing player and I felt that he was going to win the ball over Stephen Moylan’s head. Luckily the ball broke and Nicky O’Connell set him up for the point and I suppose the rest is history after that.
“Domhnall is kind of a funny character, he gets these notions into his head. He’d be confident enough in his own ability and it worked out well. Wasn’t he right in the end to go out there? I think he said afterwards that if his man had got another point it wouldn’t have mattered, like we may as well lose by ten points as one point so why not take a gamble? He took a gamble and it worked and hopefully the same happens the next day.”
Both sides are more than willing to grasp a second chance at All-Ireland glory, even if their over-familiarity is starting to breed contempt.
“This is our sixth meeting competitively this year so we are sick to death of meeting each other.
“The management are going to be drawing up different tactics, Jimmy Barry is going to be doing it, Davy is going to be doing it. I mean we know each other so well, they have probably been doing video analysis on us, we have been doing video analysis on them. We know the pros and cons of each other.
“Maybe people think that Clare played above themselves but I think Cork still played very well. I mean they showed serious relilience and character, they looked like they were out of the game but still came back and scored three goals. But we showed character as well, everytime they got a goal, we came back and hit two or three points and look, we feel we are still there with a shot. It’s a new game and it’s a 50/50 game again and we’re still there with a chance of winning an All-Ireland medal.
“It’s going to come down to something small on the day. It could come down to a break of a ball or a marginal decision by a referee but all I can tell you is that we are going to give it our best shot for 70 or 75 minutes and if it’s good enough, it’s good enough and we’ll be champions. But if it’s not, we’ll just have to go back to the drawing board for next year.
“I think we play well in Croke Park, these young hurlers love playing in Croke Park so we weren’t surprised, we know we can play at that level and hopefully we can bring that level to the table again the next day. We are probably going to have to bring it up another ten per cent because we know that Cork are going to throw the kitchen sink at us. You could see the last day, they got three goals and they are going to fancy their chances at getting goals again and run at us but we are just going to have to meet that challenge and be ready for them.”
Kelly certainly met the challenge head on, well maybe closer to his other cheeks, in the drawn game. Expect more of the same on Saturday as the Inagh man seems determined to do whatever it takes to get Clare over the line.

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Joe Ó Muircheartaigh graduated from University College Dublin in 1989 with a degree in history and politics. After completing a Diploma in Journalism at The College of Commerce, Rathmines in 1991, he embarked on a career in journalism. Joe spent four years with Clare FM from 1992 and was with The Clare Champion from 1996 to 2005. He has won two McNamee Awards for GAA journalism and has published two books. Contact Joe on [email protected]

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