Little did he think that after winning his first All-Ireland senior hurling championship in 2013 that it would take four years for Tony Kelly to return to action in Croke Park.
Not alone does this come as a surprise to hurling followers all over Ireland but even to Kelly himself who admits to being more shocked that it is with his club Ballyea that he will make the return to Jones’ Road.
“We were there in 2013 with Clare and little did we think that the next time we’d be there it would be with Ballyea, it’s just unbelievable, the prize of winning today is just unbelievable. I know everyone says the prize is an All-Ireland Final but the prize inside in those dressing rooms is getting to Croke Park together as a team as a family and as friends”.
They defeated St Thomas’ by two points with Tony slotting over the insurance score to send the Clare and Munster champions to the All-Ireland decider. It is evident that he and all involved with Ballyea were driven on by comments that a three month break would see their run came to an end.
“There was a lot of talk that we got a bit of luck and there was a roll before Christmas that everyone you met said ‘ye were flying it tis just a pity that it wasn’t on before Christmas’. Inside in the dressing room we knew we got a bit of luck on the way and we knew we were there on merit aswell.
“Our first half I thought we played some brilliant hurling and start of the second half we were very good aswell, maybe ten or fifteen minutes to go we probably sat back and once a team gets a bit of momentum on another team it’s hard to stop like we did earlier on to Thurles. Thankfully we dug in with two minutes to go and got a few points to settle it down again. It’s better to go to Croke Park having a game played like that than going to Croke Park having won by ten or twelve points”, he told Clare FM.
Tony maintains that the manner in which they were forced to dig deep will serve as an asset as they prepare for either Cuala or Slaughtneill in helping to keep all members of the panel grounded. The UL business student isn’t keen to take praise for the final score of the evening but instead passes on to Niall Deasy and every other player that received game-time.
“I was only looking at Deasy and copying what he was doing today, it’s just absolutely fantastic one to eighteen or twenty whatever came on today put their shoulder to the wheel and there was a lot made during the week of how together the St Thomas’ lads are and rightly so with all the brothers and relations that they have but I think we shoe equally that although we haven’t many brothers on the panel that we are one big family in Ballyea and that character to get us over the line showed and hopefully we can get that bit of luck on Paddy’s weekend aswell”.
For now it is only sinking in that Robbie Hogan’s side are headed for the showpiece event in club hurling and for this journey the Clare senior is adamant they will have all of Ballyea and West Clare for that matter behind them.
“There won’t be a person left in Ballyea on Paddy’s weekend from Ballyea back as far as Killimer, that’s what it’s all about, it’s absolutely fantastic and we’ll never again get to Croke Park, this is our chance to go to Croke Park and express ourselves and just looking forward to heading out there with Ballyea”.