In the build-up to Kerry’s Allianz Hurling League promotion/relegation play-off with Antrim, Eamonn Kelly set aside a five-hour block to review DVD footage of the Ulster outfit.
About halfway through it, the Kerry manager hit the stop button on his remote control and shut off his television.
“I said to myself, ‘what am I doing this for?’” recalled Kelly. “We have only one focus and that is ourselves. The truth of it is you can analyse the opposition to death.”
Kerry, of course, won that game and in the process struck a blow for ambitious, emerging hurling counties nationwide by gaining promotion to Division 1B of the league.
Kelly recounts the anecdote to explain why the Kingdom have focused almost exclusively on themselves in the run up to today’s Christy Ring Cup opener with Down.
If he’s honest, Kelly has probably thought too much about his Kerry team over the last few months. His plan had been to shake hands with all concerned last June and walk away from a Christy Ring Cup winning side.
A dip in form towards the end of that campaign, however, allied to Kildare’s ferocious appetite for success in the final left his plan in smithereens.
So, at times over winter, the Tipperary man found himself wide-eyed in the middle of the night, thumbing through the diary he’d composed of Kerry’s 2014 season to try to decipher exactly what went wrong.
If it all sounds a little like obsession, Kelly doesn’t discount the charge.
He makes no apologies either for his tunnel vision in pursuit of this year’s Christy Ring Cup title and has put in place arguably the most professional Kerry hurling set-up ever to make it happen.
“We’re expected to be professional but you can’t do it without the players,” said Kelly. “They’re top-class guys, we’re not tolerating the messers. We’re fortunate that we have a very tight bunch of players.
“We have a squad now where you can turn around and have serious options, players that can come in and make a difference in a tight game.
“The players have brought that edge to it. Bringing in someone like Pat Kelly, who has won an All-Ireland senior medal in Clare, is an example, he will tell you that the preparation is at the same level they had with Clare.
“When the rest of the guys hear that they get their chests out and they say to each other, ‘let’s start doing those extra few gym sessions because it’s not enough to do three nights a week’.
“They do recovery sessions in the pool, they do the gym sessions. We have our own WhatsApp group, they put up posts and they have leaders in the groups and that’s what all top inter-county sides are doing right now.
“We want for nothing from the county board, from our liaison officer. We are not going around cap in hand saying we need x, y and z. We need for nothing and the lads know that.”
Former Clare senior Kelly was immense in the defeat of Antrim. The sub goalkeeper that day was James Logue, the netminder for All-Ireland minor and U21 wins with Tipperary.
“I would love to have a full fleet of Kerry players and there are enough players in Kerry that are capable of stepping up but there has to be a change in mindset,” said the manager.
“We’re not going to tolerate guys who have an a la carte approach to our training.
“I think that’s what stands to us at the minute. We said to guys, ‘here’s what’s expected, here’s your training plan and if you’re not prepared to adhere to that, you are in the wrong place.’
“When that mindset is changed here, then we might see the support coming back. Lest anyone is still in any doubt, it’s win or bust for Kerry this summer.
“I should be telling you I don’t want to win the Christy Ring Cup, to take the pressure off,” said Kelly. “But, look, I wouldn’t be back here only for that defeat in last year’s final.”
If they can do it, and successfully navigate the intensive 36-day championship schedule, Kelly will finally allow his players to party.
“I don’t think any of us were ready for the flow of emotion after the win over Antrim in Parnell Park,” he admitted.
“I only witnessed something like that once before when my own club won the first All-Ireland intermediate club title. I remember that dressing-room that day and I’ll never forget it but the lads surpassed even that up in Parnell Park.
“It was an incredible atmosphere because it meant so much to the lads. We know the only way we can ever get to that level of euphoria is by winning a Christy Ring.
“If they manage to do that then this group of players will have separated themselves from a lot of Kerry teams in that they will have back-to-back leagues, gained promotion and also to Liam MacCarthy hurling.
“We had to pull the lads back from celebrating the league promotion because of the Christy Ring. But they can celebrate for a week if they win this.”
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