This Saturday, 20-year-old Tony Kelly aims to add to an already seriously impressive trophy cabinet. Playing his last match in the under 21 grade, the Ballyea man is determined to sign off this chapter of his career on a high, writes Eoin Brennan.
Still only 20, Tony Kelly has won almost every major honour in the game at least once but still has one more box to tick, namely to captain an All-Ireland winning team. While his senior future certainly suggests much optimism ahead, this Saturday offers the last opportunity for the current National Player and Young Hurler of the Year to complete his underage career on a winning note as captain of arguably Clare’s greatest ever team.
Three years previously, Kelly was captain of the minor team that claimed back-to-back provincial crowns, only to fall short in the All-Ireland semi-final against Galway in a truly stomach-churning turnaround. And with that in mind, Kelly is doubly determined to sign off this campaign on a high.
“Anyone that is playing their last underage game wants to go out with a win and no better place than Thurles in an All-Ireland final to do that. For the few lads that are overage next year, that gives an extra incentive to sign off with a win. We want another All-Ireland medal and we’ll be doing everything in our power to do that.
“We set out at the start of the year to be hurling until September and I suppose that was our aim with the senior as well but it’s always nice to be preparing for an All-Ireland final and this one is extra special maybe that we are going for three-in-a-row. We will just take it as a normal game though, just as we did last year but I suppose now we are just looking forward to going out and expressing ourselves on the night.”
Of course, Saturday’s opponents Wexford have already dethroned Clare of one All-Ireland title this year after a titanic two game All-Ireland senior qualifier series. However, far from gunning for revenge, Kelly just views it as just another obstacle to jump in their pursuit of glory.
“They beat us in the senior after two great battles and looking at them against Galway the last day, we know the players they have like Jack Guiney and Conor McDonald and the threat they pose. In saying that, whether they had beaten us in the senior or not, our motivation was going to be high anyway. It’s an All-Ireland final at the end of the day so whether it was Wexford or Kilkenny or anybody, we’d still have the same motivation levels going into it.
“The way we have been looking at it is that this is just another game that we have to prepare for and Wexford are just another team that we have to beat. It’s something we have been doing for the past two years and it seems to have worked so the plan won’t be changed or altered in any way and hopefully it will be all systems go and it will work again this year.
“At this stage, having playing together for so long at underage is definitely a plus and an advantage that we know each other so well. Since we were minor, there has been a large amount of players in this group that have been there since 2010 and 2011, we all went to St Flannan’s or Caimins together and that bond does help us in the heat of battle.
“I mean when things are tight, you know that you can trust the lad beside you and vice versa and that’s what it comes down to really, trusting your team-mate that he is going to do his best for you and that you do your best for him. I think that’s the way it has been for the last two years, we’ve all put the shoulder to the wheel and no-one has taken any team for granted.
“You just put the head down and work hard and let the result take care of itself.”
List of honours since 2010 –
2014 Munster Under 21 Hurling Championship (Clare)
2013 National Hurling Player of the Year
2013 National Young Hurling Player of the Year
2013 GAA-GPA All Star
2013 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship (Clare)
2013 Munster Under 21 Hurling Championship (Clare)
2013 All-Ireland Under 21 Hurling Championship (Clare)
2013 Clare Senior B Hurling Championship (Ballyea)
2012 Munster Under 21 Hurling Championship (Clare)
2012 All-Ireland Under 21 Hurling Championship (Clare)
2012 Munster GAA Under 21 Hurler of the Year
2012 Clare Under 21A Hurling Championship (Ballyea)
2012 Clare Under 21A Football Championship (Clondegad)
2011 Munster Minor Hurling Championship (Clare)
2011 Munster GAA Minor Hurling of the Year
2011 Clare Intermediate Football Championship (Clondegad)
2011 Clare Under 21B Hurling Championship (Ballyea)
2010 Munster Minor Hurling Championship (Clare)