For seven years, Caroline Kelly endured a nine-hour round-trip, twice a week, just to pull on the Kerry jersey.
There were times she bumped into former Cork footballer Geraldine O’Flynn in a remote petrol station en route, who herself was venturing home for training, but at least O’Flynn was winning. Kelly’s ‘love of the game’, despite fewer victories, had blurred her vision of the madness of it all.
“Yeah, I stuck with it because of that. The love of the game. I want to play for as long as I can, and to be honest, being part of a group makes it harder to walk away.
“I had to pick between my life in Naas and football, and football won. It was the right decision, and I’m much happier now,” admits the Meentogues-based primary school teacher.
Kelly is now the Kerry captain and it’s an honour a long time coming given this is her 14th season playing senior football since making her debut as a 16-year-old - a day after losing the Munster U16 final, to Cork.
She’s the second longest serving veteran in Graham Shine’s side, nipping at the heels of Patrice Dennehy, who’s in her 19th season. That’s an incredible 33 years experience between them, and Kelly herself has amassed three Munster SFC titles, numerous club titles, and the unfortunate count of four All-Star nominations for her no-nonsense defending. Having won the Kerry SFC with Southern Gaels against Beaufort last year, she was nominated to wear the captain’s armband, and has done so admirably. But, it’s been a tough season for the Ballinskelligs woman.
“We missed out on making the league semi-finals so that was frustrating, and we’ve been a little bit inconsistent, but now’s the time to make things right.”
Starting with the second round clash of the Munster SFC against Cork today in Fitzgerald Stadium (6pm).
Just like the reigning All-Ireland champions Cork, Kerry were defeated by an underestimated, and hugely impressive, Waterford side in round one. Kelly knows there’s room for improvement.
“We put our hands up. Waterford were better than us. There’s no qualms about that, but we made very basic mistakes.
“They’re a super side, but we know ourselves we were poor by our own standards, and we were disappointed in our performance.
“And that’s one of the things we’ll be focusing on against Cork, just ourselves really, getting that performance right. The result will nearly take care of itself then.”
Either way, all is not lost should Cork or Kerry lose, with the losers progressing to the qualifiers, while Waterford await the winners on July 8.
But, after 14 years, to captain Kerry in a Munster final is the least Kelly deserves. For the love of the game. For the love of the Kingdom.
* Elsewhere, Cavan and Monaghan meet to decide who will join Donegal in the Ulster final following Donegal’s come-from-behind victory over Armagh last weekend.
Antrim will play Derry in the first match in Galbally to decide who takes on Fermanagh in the TG4 Ulster Junior Championship Final.
Then in the Connacht Intermediate Championship, it’s also come down to the wire at the round robin stage with the final game taking place this weekend. A win for Sligo over Roscommon will see them return to the provincial decider, but Roscommon can still grab their place in the final should they defeat Sligo by six points or more.
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