The legend lives on

We speak too easily about legends in sport, granting such status when really, none exists.

Not in the case of Tipperary’s Eoin Kelly.

Eoin’s story isn’t finished yet, however. Seems as though he’s been around the scene forever, now in his 13th full championship season, but Mullinahone’s own maestro is still only 30 and still one of hurling’s most dangerous forwards.

Yes he was taken off against Limerick in the first round in Munster, saw only a few late minutes against Cork in the semi-final, the second half against Waterford in the Munster final and is only a sub again tomorrow for the All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny? You think all that suggests Eoin Kelly is now only a shadow of the player he was? You’re wrong.

It’s true Eoin is no longer the mainstay of the Tipperary attack, it’s true also that where once he was the first name written down on the teamsheet, he’s now battling for a place on the starting 15. Don’t read too much into that.

By his own admission Eoin was never the fastest player on the planet. When he broke onto the Tipperary team it was because of his skill, strength and hurling acumen. All that is still there in all its abundance; it’s the game itself that has moved on. Hurling these days favours the flyers and this is an area where the Tipperary attack is particularly well served.

The automatic slot is no longer there, that call made by Declan Ryan and his selectors, but the drive and the ambition, the competitive spark that made Eoin Kelly a legend, is still very much alive, bursting for an opportunity to reveal itself once again. Don’t believe me? Listen to the man himself as he discussed last week those who now dismiss him.

“People judge hurling and I don’t know what they’re looking for,” he said.

“People judge it on pace, but I was never the fastest. People judge it on last year on the Dublin and Kilkenny games [hard-won semi-final and lost All-Ireland final, respectively] and wrote off a few players after that. But you have to keep believing in yourself and that’s the way I am.

“We came up against a seven or eight-man defence against Dublin and that’s very hard for any forward. Against Kilkenny they were very tactically aware in defence and got it right on the day. The real hurling guy will see other sides of a lad’s play. The guys who know nothing about hurling see you scoring and scoring but the real hurling man will see you making a run to the corner, maybe holding up the play, maybe being a bit more physical and the ball spilling off you for other guys, the likes of Shane Bourke, Lar Corbett, Noel McGrath to come on to.

“You’d come across guys who know nothing about hurling and those are the type of questions they ask.”

A little bit narked there, no doubt about it, but with reason. Dismissed at 30 when he still has all that talent, why wouldn’t he be narked. It’s even being suggested that he now accepts he’s only a bit-player for Tipperary. Not a bit of it – again, people are misreading the situation.

Whether being taken off against Limerick or being brought on against Cork and Waterford, Eoin has acted with grace, no prima-donna histrionics when taken off, no fist-pumping at the bench after scoring against Waterford.

Why, even in training he’s working positively with those who would make him redundant, drawing praise from long-time team-mate Brendan Cummins.

“If you saw what that man does with the younger players inside, those actually taking his place. He’s helping them to get better and better as they try to draw further and further away.

“Talk about leadership and setting up the future. It has been just fantastic watching what he has been doing.”

Does all that mean he has settled for second-best? Does it hell!

“I’m training to start. I’ve been training since last November so of course I’m disappointed when I’m not starting — anyone that says different is totally telling a lie.

“There are places up for grabs and I’m hoping to start against Kilkenny. I’m doing well enough in training, I did well when I came on against Waterford.”

So, if called on against Kilkenny, he will be ready. Legend made but not at all finished.

The Eoin Kelly factfile

Four years minor for Tipperary.

Five years U21.

Minor, U21 and senior in the same year (2000).

Tipperary’s top championship scorer ever (21-360).

All-Ireland-winning senior hurling captain (2010).

Five All Star awards by age 24.

Back-to-back All Star and young hurler of the year awards.

Holds the record for individual point-scoring in a Munster championship game (0-14 v Limerick 2006, four from frees, one 65, nine from play — five off his right-hand side, four off his left).

Scored 2-7 from 2-10 when his club, Mullinahone, won its only Tipperary senior county title (2002).

When Mullinahone won the Tipperary South and county U12 titles (1994) they racked up an aggregate score of 4-24 in the last three games, against Killenaule, Thurles Sarsfields and Toomevara – Eoin scored all 4-24.

Information courtesy of Brian McDonnell and his website www.blueblood.ie


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