IT was May 2011 that it all started.
The Tony Kelly scoring machine at senior level that is.
Aged just 17 he’d already played in an All-Ireland final and was a Munster championship, while there was plenty more Munster and All-Ireland glory around the corner.
But this was big – corner forward, with All Star Tony Griffin in the other corner, as he was thrown a jersey for his senior club start.
Ballyea were hammered by Newmarket-on-Fergus the same day, with the game in Cusack Park finishing 4-15 to 0-11, but save Colin Ryan’s exploits for the Blues when racking up 2-9, Kelly was the game’s second highest scorer with 0-6.
He’s been Ballyea’s scoring machine ever since, their driving force and inspiration as they’ve slowly but surely inched their way towards the top, with another game against Newmarket-on-Fergus two years later really heralding their arrival.
It was important to get out of the Senior B and get to the latter stages of the competition, because that experience of getting to a semi-final stood to us this year. We learned from the mistakes we made against Newmarket in 2013 and were able to draw on those experiences to get us over the line against Feakle.
It was a semi-final in Clarecastle when it took a big push at the death by the reigning champions to get home to a flattering 0-15 to 1-7 victory. “It was experience that got them over the line on the day” says Kelly. “They were county champions the year before and had been knocking around semi-finals or finals for three or four years. That was our first semi-final, a lot of us were only 18, 19, or 20.
“It was important to get out of the Senior B and get to the latter stages of the competition, because that experience of getting to a semi-final stood to us this year. We learned from the mistakes we made against Newmarket in 2013 and were able to draw on those experiences to get us over the line against Feakle.”
You could say that Ballyea’s graph rose as Kelly’s did. Ballyea started challenging and winning A titles when Kelly was in the age-group – under 12, under 14, all the way to under 21 in 2012.
“That under 21 win was a big breakthrough,” he says, “while beating Crusheen in a senior quarter-final in ’13 was a massive win for us. After beating them we believed that we could make the step up and compete with the best of the teams.”
It’s no wonder that Kelly is embracing this Sunday’s county final test so much – Clonlara have long since been touted as champions in waiting, possessed of the best bunch of players in the county.
Now for Kelly and co to try and match them, then beat them.
“They have endless county talent and endless experience,” he says. “Even lads that aren’t on the county panel now have played county in the past and we are under no illusions about the battle we are going in facing.
“Myself, Jack, Paul and Gearóid are training with them every night of the week and we know. We know their ability and they know our ability. You can play the opposition too much as well and if you’re going to try and quench fires you’re going to have to quench 15 such is the talent that they have.
It’s about focusing on ourselves and trying to get the best performance out of ourselves – if it’s good enough to win well and good, if it’s not you hold your hand up and say we were beaten by a better team. It’s important to focus on ourselves and try and get the best out of ourselves.
“We think that if we perform to the best of our ability we will be in with a shout. You’re going to have to get a bit of luck on the day – you don’t go out in finals, perform and happen to win them. You need a bit of luck.”
And Tony Kelly to do what only Tony Kelly can do.
Shoot the lights out.
Float like a butterfly; sting like a bee.
Don’t miss our 16 Page Senior Hurling Final Supplement in this week’s Clare People