Dublin led league champions Kilkenny by five points with five minutes of normal time remaining in Pat Gilroy’s first Leinster championship game as boss, but they couldn’t hold out and lost by two, leaving Pat Gilroy with a huge job to lift his players for Sunday’s trip to Wexford.
They led Kilkenny from the third minute to the 71st, but were suckered by a late goal and lost Conal Keaney to injury, while Wexford will be fresh after a weekend off.
Asked if he thinks Dublin blew a great opportunity, Kelly said: “I do, yeah, I do. They put so much into it. They will be deflated. Keaney is injured. How many more injuries have they after it? I don’t know, but no-one from Kilkenny came off with a bad injury.
“After 65 minutes, sure they were brilliant. In a week now they could be facing the dreaded relegation. I feel sorry for them now, because they really came with a plan and they were unbelievably hungry for it.”
Kelly, a two-time All-Ireland winner and Paddy Power hurling ambassador for the 2018 championship, said Kilkenny deserve huge praise.
They lost their opening two league games, but have won all their matches since and the Mullinahone man is surprised, given the amount of new players in their team.
“I didn’t think Kilkenny were going to come as strong this season,” said Kelly. “Am I surprised by them? I am. They are going to be contenders, when it comes down to it. That two points and how they won it, that’s invaluable. That’s worth three or four championship matches.”
Kelly was regarded as one of the best free-takers of his era and never failed to convert a free in any of the All-Ireland finals he competed in, but he claimed Kilkenny, and TJ Reid, in particular, have taken free-taking consistency to new levels, helping to overcome the loss of top forwards to retirement in recent seasons.
Reid converted 10 placed balls in Sunday’s win over Dublin, while Eoin Murphy, their goalkeeper, converted four frees, adding up to more than half their overall 1-24 tally.
“They nailed every one,” he said. “What TJ Reid is doing at the moment hasn’t been seen. When he puts it down for a free, it’s a guaranteed score.”