Back in August, Podge Collins found himself marking Tony Kelly for a brief period when Cratloe played Ballyea in the Clare championship.
The play-making duo of Clare’s 2013 All-Ireland triumph went head to head on that occasion and Kelly came out on top.
“I actually only marked Tony for a couple of minutes, I think he got 1-11 that day, I was only on him for three of them!” said Collins, smiling.
“The first three points went over and then I was hearing from the sideline: ‘Ah Podge, come over here!’”
The sides will meet again on Sunday in the county final and it remains to be seen who will mark Kelly.
The Cratloe management will certainly have a plan for the former hurler of the year, who is showing the form of his career.
Another snapshot from Kelly’s club campaign that was widely distributed on social media was an outrageous flick he performed before scoring a point against Inagh-Kilnamona in the quarter-finals.
In their next game, Kelly struck 1-9, all from play, including a thrilling solo goal against O’Callaghan’s Mills.
I actually remember giving an interview when I was a minor and this lad was U17,” said Collins. “I was like: ‘What this lad can do in training, people haven’t seen this before.’ It was what people were doing on a hurling field as seniors, so he’s always been a special talent.
“He’s focused, hard working and he’s always been the same way in work and school, and it’s the same on the hurling field. What he does off it is why he’s so good, the work he puts in, and he’s really showing it on the field this year.”
Kelly isn’t the only big talent Ballyea possess, as they displayed when capturing the Clare title two years ago, before blitzing Munster weeks later. Their All-Ireland odyssey only ended in the final, when they met Cuala the following March.
“He’ll need watching on Sunday, but if you go through their entire team, nearly all of them have played inter-county in either hurling or football,” noted Collins. “They are also able to win their own ball. They are very hard working, very fit and very competitive, so they’ll be a tough ask.”
Cratloe have their own impressive pedigree and are aiming for their third county title success inside a decade in what will be their fifth final in that period. Their last win was in 2014, though it’s not been an entirely fallow period in between for many of their players.
“We were in a football final, but this is the first time back for us in the hurling,” said Collins, the former Clare dual player. “It’s good to be back, but then you get there and you’re not just happy with that, you want to win them.”
Collins was speaking at a Dublin Airport hotel yesterday at the launch of the jerseys for the upcoming Fenway Hurling Classic in Boston. Cork’s Daniel Kearney joined him at the event and the pair got chatting about the demands on their time as inter-county players.
Daniel was only just saying, when he was talking to me there in the taxi, he was saying he’s going for the last four years, flat out, no week or two weeks off,” said Collins. “It’ll be over to Boston, then the Munster League starts for the pre-season, then the National League starts, then the league for the championship starts.
It’s a conversation that inevitably leads to the recent ESRI study, which found that county players invest as much as 31 hours per week in their game.
“And it goes full cycle,” said Collins, pointing to the lack of a defined closed season. “The only break I’ve ever got from playing was when I did my cruciate. I got nine months off. It just goes into one big season, because as soon as the club stops, the county starts and that’s the way it goes.”