On the eve of the 2018 Championship, Eoin Kelly complained about knowing so little about what was happening inside Michael Ryan’s camp.
Training was behind closed doors and as the 2010 All-Ireland winning captain put it: “You’d be afraid to go near a ground, just in case you were turned away. I actually don’t know what’s going on in Tipp, that’s being honest.”
He concluded it was “a pity” the genuine Tipp supporters are starved of information though, a year on, the Mullinahone man is on the inside track having been called in to Liam Sheedy’s coaching set-up.
Just days out from the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny, we can presume then that Kelly will fling open the doors to the Tipp dressing room and let us all in on how they plan to proceed?
“I expect it to be the way Cian Lynch called it during the week — and he would be familiar with both teams — he said it’s just so hard to call. I do expect it to go to the wire. That’s my gut feeling.”
No incredible insights there then, though we can hardly blame the Paddy Power GAA ambassador for playing a canny defensive game so close to the season’s climax. There is simply so much at stake.
He is more open on the subject of Tipp’s ultra experienced crew of players, like Seamus Callanan, Brendan and Padraic Maher, and Noel McGrath, whom he played alongside in 2010.
“They’ve matured into some of the best hurlers that have ever played for Tipperary,” he said. “Their consistency is no mean feat. For some of them this will be their seventh All-Ireland final, ironically all against Kilkenny, between replays and all of that.
“Right, you haven’t won them all but to get to that final day, just the maturity they’ve shown and the condition they’re in and the hunger they still have at 29, 30, 31, 32, it’s incredible.
“One memory I have of those young lads is talking with Lar Corbett around 2008, 2009, just saying: ‘We need to hang in here for a few years because these are special players coming along’.
“They weren’t your ordinary Tipperary player, they were special players, successful players — they won two minors in ‘06 and ‘07.”
Kelly was called into the Tipp set-up before the Championship to help out with free-taking.
“That’s what I took up in April,” said the two-time All-Ireland winner, a placed ball expert.
From his position outside the bubble in recent years, Kelly knows there’ll be a public postmortem if they don’t beat Kilkenny.
“Tipperary people expect,” he acknowledged. “Whichever team doesn’t win on Sunday, be they Kilkenny supporters or Tipp supporters, there’ll be a few harsh words said afterwards but that’s the sport you’re in and players know that. What they do is they distance themselves from that, all they worry about is what’s in both dressing rooms.”
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