Eoin Kelly has admitted a lack of match action this season was partly behind his decision to call time on his glittering Tipperary career.
The 2010 All-Ireland-winning captain, 32, confirmed he won’t be available to manager Eamon O’Shea next season, bringing to an end a remarkable 14 years of senior service.
Mullinahone club man Kelly picked up to two All-Ireland medals and was a six-time All Star recipient.
But he didn’t start any of this season’s Championship games and lined out just once in the summer of 2013, against Kilkenny in their ill-fated qualifier tie.
Kelly said he felt the time was right and noted: “I suppose this season I had very little game time also.”
He added: “I think Tipperary have a new up and coming team so I’m just happy in my own self to walk away feeling it’s the right time.”
Kelly appeared as a late substitute in the drawn All-Ireland final against Kilkenny but wasn’t used in the replay defeat.
Despite the quiet season, he will go down as one of the county’s great servants, and All-Ireland final captain Brendan Maher described Kelly as the best he’s ever seen.
“I think if you put him in any position and gave him time there, he’d be able to master it,” said Maher. “He’s the best I’ve ever seen.
“I can’t speak about the players of the past. Obviously there’s many great men that have played for Tipperary but definitely in my lifetime, he’s the best I’ve ever seen, and I reckon he’ll be the best we’ll ever see.
“I remember Shane McGrath telling me a story from a couple of years ago of a college game involving LIT.
“Shane used to take the sidelines but Eoin was having such a good day. It was wet I think, a cold January evening and Eoin was having a good day.
“So Shane was going to take the side line ball but Eoin told him to get away from it. Over he went and popped it over the bar and nobody had ever seen him taking a sideline before! He was just a player that could do anything.”
Kelly follows fellow two-time All-Ireland medallist John O’Brien into retirement ahead of the new season.
Maher admitted it will rob the panel of vital big game experience as they attempt to reel in league and Championship holders Kilkenny.
“Absolutely, the presence Eoin had both on and off the pitch, I don’t think there’s anyone will ever have it,” continued Maher.
Kelly’s retirement follows the exit of a quartet of household names from the Kilkenny hurling panel, including nine-time All-Ireland medallist Tommy Walsh.
Maher argued that Kelly sits easily among the greats of the game despite a near decade-long barren streak between All-Ireland wins in 2001 and 2010.
“He’s a gentleman and I think he’s just a true leader, on and off the pitch,” said Maher, in an interview with Tipp FM. “He will be sorely missed but he owes the county nothing.”
Kelly’s former Tipperary colleague O’Brien said that a lack of game time similarly tipped him towards making the decision to retire.
“If I’m honest, I probably would have gone at the end of last year,” said O’Brien.
“It was just the way the year (2013) worked out. I felt the team had a lot more to offer and I felt I had a lot more to offer after last year.”
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