Eoin Kelly has had worse weeks. Last Sunday he captained Tipperary to the All-Ireland senior hurling title. Now he reflects on the biggest day of his sporting life with Michael Moynihan
September 5, 2010: 10am.
“I wasn’t talking to Paul (Kelly) specifically the morning of the game, but last Sunday – and all year, in fairness – Liam (Sheedy) would have spoken about the injured lads.
“He had included them on the panel deliberately and would have driven it home to us to give it everything in the game because you never know what’s going to happen to you: you mightn’t be right to play next season for whatever reason, or it could be the only All-Ireland final that you play in.
“That hit home. That lesson was one we took on board going to Croke Park.
Lar Corbett scores Tipperary’s first goal.
“The way Lar’s been scoring goals in Croke Park in the last couple of years, it shows how much he’s loving it. He’s scored 10 or 11 goals in his last few games there.
“When that high ball went in from Shane McGrath there was no-one else we would have wanted one-on-one with Noel Hickey. No-one. Lar is one of the best hurlers around when it comes to winning the ball in the air, and his finishing is superb as well. As we saw after 10 minutes of the All-Ireland final. His leadership was unbelievable, apart from the goal. He was supporting lads, offering himself for the pass, from start to finish.”
Tipperary are 1-7 to 0-4 ahead and dominating Kilkenny all over the field.
“The most pleasing thing was that everyone was throwing themselves into tackles, they were putting their bodies on the line. People talked a lot about what you had to do to beat Kilkenny, and that was the answer – you have to do to Kilkenny what Kilkenny have been doing over the last four years. That takes effort, and the lads made that effort last Sunday, all of them. You can talk about it all you want, giving in 110%, and leaving it all out on the field – and along with that, you sometimes win games without playing all that well – but to do it all, to play that well and to give that effort on the biggest day of the year, in an All-Ireland final, when the odds are against you...yeah, that was pleasing.”
At half-time, however, Kilkenny are only one point behind, profiting from Tipperary indiscipline to rattle over frees.
“The atmosphere was good at the break, it was positive. Liam made us aware that we’d let Kilkenny back into it, and mostly through frees. We’d given away over 10 frees in the first half, and that was something we felt we could rectify in the second half, and I think we did. And we were still a point up, so you could say we were still on the attack. That was the key thing, though, the big message we got at half-time: stop the silly fouling. Stop giving away the silly frees. And we did.”
Having surged ahead with goals from Lar Corbett and Noel McGrath, Tipperary close the game out with scores from subs Seamus Callanan, Benny Dunne and Seamus Hennessy.
“I felt our subs turned the game. They changed what could have been a three- or four-point victory to an eight-point victory. We’ll never know that for definite, but I felt they were the difference. If Liam hadn’t brought them on, or if they hadn’t gotten those scores, you never know how it would have ended. Kilkenny had dominated for 10, 15 minutes in the second half. They weren’t gone at all, for the likes of Seamus Hennessy to come on and get a point like the one he did...it was fantastic.”
The final whistle. Tipperary 4-17, Kilkenny 1-18.
“It’s probably something you don’t even dream of when you’re younger – not every county wins the All-Ireland, and only one man captains the team, but when Liam and the lads gave me the responsibility at the start of the year I just wanted to repay their faith. And when it comes to leaders, getting to back-to-back All-Ireland finals shows we have plenty of leaders in the squad. Plenty of character.”
Kelly accepts the Liam MacCarthy Cup, and there is no pitch invasion: Croke Park doesn’t need to implement Plan B.
“It didn’t take away from it, to be honest. As a young lad you’d see the game on television and see the pitch invasion at the and you’d be thinking to yourself, ‘I’d love to be out there like those lads’, but it was perfect last Sunday. I certainly didn’t think anybody from Tipperary had many complaints last weekend. Not once the game was won.”
Tuesday, Mullinahone; Thursday, Portroe: Cup goes to the captain and the manager’s home places.
“I don’t know if pleasing is the word for the homecoming, but the thing that would strike you when you’re bringing the cup back to your own place is you see lads in Tipperary jerseys that you wouldn’t think had much interest in hurling either with the club or the county, but they were really thrilled for us.
“And that brings it home to you, what it means to everybody – when you come back to Mullinahone with three lads on the panel, and you see people like that as well as the people you know there to welcome you back. You’re talking about Mullinahone and Portroe, two fairly small places in the middle of the countryside that a lot of people wouldn’t know or wouldn’t visit. But they were the centre of the world this week.”
Picture: Eoin Kelly lifts the Liam MacCarthy cup to the crowd at Semple Stadium (INPHO)
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