Eamonn Kelly hoping Kiladangan can step up

Think Puckane and you might think of Shane MacGowan and Christy Moore. Molly Sterling, Ireland’s 2015 Eurovision Song contest entrant, also hails from the small village in north Tipperary.
Eamonn Kelly hoping Kiladangan can step up

However, right in the heart of Puckane, you’ll find the Kiladangan GAA grounds, close to Slattery’s Peugeot garage and the school. This is very much a club on the rise.

Last month, Kiladangan retained their north senior hurling title to make it three crowns in four years in the division.

Now, club stalwart and former Offaly senior hurling manager Eamonn Kelly believes the time is right to take the next step.

Back in 1938, Kiladangan lost the county senior hurling final against Thurles Sarsfields by 2-2 to 7-7.

Two years previously, a combined Kiladangan/Kilbarron team lost the decider to Moycarkey-Borris.

However, opportunity knocks against Killenaule in tomorrow’s semi-final at Semple Stadium, with the men from the South looking to reach the Dan Breen showpiece for the first time since 1942.

For one of the clubs, Sunday October 9 will go down in folklore and if it’s Kiladangan who get there, Kelly will afford himself a quiet smile of satisfaction. He’s not involved with the senior team at present, but Kelly, along with many others, helped to lay the foundations for the club’s current success.

Today, Kelly will manage the club’s junior team in a county quarter-final against St Pat’s Drangan and two wins out of two would make it one hell of a weekend. The senior team will, naturally, garner most of the attention, but Kelly warns: “It’s very easy to get carried away with the county final. We still have a huge task in turning over Killenaule, who will be as keen to progress. We’ve won three of the last four Norths, that’s fantastic and means a lot to us, but to progress, we have to get to a county final at least. If you get there, anything can happen, but that’s the next part of our jigsaw.”

As Kelly explains, it was a massive moment for Kiladangan to turn over Seamus Callanan’s Drom & Inch at the quarter-final stage.

Last year, the same opponents put five goals past them and won comfortably.

However, this Kiladangan story dates back to when Kelly took over the intermediate team in February 2000.

“We hadn’t won an intermediate game in three years,” he recalls. “Then we made our first north final in a long number of years in 2001.

“The core of that team was made up of the team from the minor B county final in 1998, the likes of Hugh Flannery, Gerry Slattery, Tommy Connors, Dan Hackett, our lynchpin, who is manager of the team now, but you have a new crop coming through and last year’s U21s are very, very good lads.”

In Kelly’s first year at the helm, Kiladangan lost to Templederry in a north semi-final, but they were back a year later to see off Kilruane MacDonagh’s.

In 2002, they won the north title again, beating Newport, but Kelly stepped aside in 2003 to take over the Tipperary intermediates.

In 2004, he was back in charge again and Kiladangan won the Tipperary and Munster intermediate titles, before winning the All-Ireland club title the following spring. He stepped away again after that, but returned in 2008, and Kiladangan won the north senior hurling title.

“Anywhere I go, I have blue and gold in my veins,” says Kelly, smiling.

“I’d die for my club. I hurled with them for 20 years. I have no medals to show for it but was fortunate enough to be involved with the lads when they made the breakthrough. These fellas were a very honest bunch of guys and worked very, very hard, from being non-competitive in B and C hurling to competitive in A. They’re very competitive in north Tipperary underage competitions, but the right structures are in place.”

Darragh Egan, a member of Tipperary’s 2010 All-Ireland senior hurling winning squad, is currently centre forward on the Kiladangan team, but he’s also teaching locally, and helping to nurture the next generation.

It’s an important link, as Kiladangan aim to get things right on and off the pitch to help ensure long-lasting success.

Kelly is proud of the fact that during the mid-2000s, an extremely progressive adult committee was in place and developments continue to this very day.

Michael ‘Spike’ Nolan and Seamus Hayes, both deceased, were heavily involved as Kiladangan officials bought land adjoining their existing pitch. New dressing rooms and a meeting room were constructed, followed by a second pitch, floodlights and a stand.

Originally, a huge slope was one of the more obvious features of the Kiladangan, pitch but that was levelled and the once famous ‘hill’ is no longer an advantage for either team. A hurling wall and sand-based pitch are testament to the club’s efforts and permission has been sought for an indoor training complex, the next project on the horizon.

Kelly estimates that the work carried out to date has cost somewhere in the region of €500,000, but Kiladangan aren’t planning on moving the construction men out any time soon.

Kelly recalls that Liam Flannery was chairman in 2004 — “the man that put the framework around the facilities at the minute” — while the current club chairman is Michael Ryan, one of Kelly’s former corner-backs.

At underage level, Kelly namechecks Anthony Sherlock and Kevin Connolly as men putting in the hard yards, while local publican Niall McGrath has been the club’s sponsor for well over a decade.

“Even when we were developing our facilities, Niall would have looked after visiting teams with tea and sandwiches,” said Kelly.

It’s very much a team effort in Kiladangan and, tomorrow, Kelly’s old soldiers, men like Hugh Flannery, Egan, Connors and Slattery, will hope to write the next chapter. Keep this up and soon, there’ll be songs written about them.

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