Kelly has hurlers singing to his hymn-sheet

May 20th, 2014
by Weeshie Fogarty

One of the great sports stories in the county this year has been the heart warming success of our senior hurling team. Unbeaten as they became league champions they are still on course for a Christy Ring Cup final place and on all know present form they are more than capable of adding this to their league title. -Last Saturdays 3-18 to 1-16 win away to Kildare was prove positive that their star under their exemplary Tipperary manager Eamon Kelly continues to rise. However the most remarkable aspect of their outstanding good run is the fact that Kerry hurling seemed to have been in a very dark place last November and the hurling pundits were predicting turbulent days ahead as the management then in charge resigned en-block much to the surprise of the county board. Tom Howard the then manager informed the board unexpectedly that, "unfortunately we have not received the support from a sufficient number of players for this plan and as a result we have no other choice but to step down". The Clare native who had done great work was referring to the fact that they had sought and failed to garner the support of the players to begin a winter training/strength/conditioning program.

There was great speculating in hurling circles as to who would be the new supremo and many high profile names were branded about. A sub committee was appointed to put a new man in place and at a January county board meeting Tipperary native Eamon Kelly was ratified as was his trainor Brian Horgan, also from the Premier county. Both men had worn the famed blue and gold of Tipp and had experienced life as team managers and Eamon from the Kildangan club had been a dual player with Tipp. Both men brought with them to the job a burning obsession for the game and a passion and desire to deliver only the highest quality of management to the hurlers of Kerry. And boy have they succeeded. I met up with Eamon recently and like all hurling men I was struck by his absolute zeal and enthusiasm for the game. He made one thing quite clear, "we made a conscious decision not to look back what so ever and I was going to make all my own decisions".

Early training sessions were disappointing but then the players began to buy into the new thinking. "We brought in a top sports psychologists Caroline Currie for a few talks, she had worked with Dublin, Tipperary Tyrone, the Munster rugby side and many more top sports people. Early morning strength and conditioning sessions were introduced and the players to a man responded to the 6 AM start time". A huge emphasis was placed on the statistics of each match and Eamon was high in his praise of his stats man John Lucid. He explained, "We measured our work rate concentrating on hooking and blocking, trying to get in twenty two per team and we always say if the forwards can get more than the backs we would probably win the game". He is a firm believer in new voices in the dressing and he added, "we have received massive backing and support from the county board and we invited people like Brendan Cummins, Liam Sheedy and Dublin trainor Tommy Dunne to talk and advise the players, if one player picks up something new from all of this then it is great".

I pressed the Tipp man as to what was his fondest memory so far in the year and without hesitation he replied, "our storming second-half comeback to beat Carlow by 3-16 to 3-13 in the Allianz Hurling League Division 2A final at Semple Stadium. We trailed by 0-09 to 3-06 at half-time but three second-half goals secured a memorable win and it was so special to see the joy and celebrations following the final whistle. However it was very unfair to have us in action again six days later in the play off against Offally and their freshness gave them that vital edge as they beat us and I question the decision of the top brass in the GAA in relation to fixtures such as this".  So what is Eamon Kelly's philosophy as regards the style of hurling Kerry should play? "We encourage open and expansive hurling particularly in the forwards. Lots of movement both on and off the ball, each man working to the maximum, breaking the tackle, moving the ball fast into the scoring area where we have seen a good spread of scoring by all players".

The Kerry county board made a superb choice when they sought the services of Eamon Kelly and he in turn was high in his praise of all his back room team and selectors when we spoke. His panel is now down to twenty seven dedicated and committed Kerry men. It is a work in progress, while not committing himself I got the strong impression that Eamon would like to stay with this Kerry side for al least another year or more, its vital that he does. Entry to the Munster senior championship is his goal and for me he summed up everything when he said. "we must train, live and have ambitions just like the Kerry footballers, we have made a few steps along the way but there is a lot of work ahead and I am utterly convinced we have the players with the skill to achieve much more. We have a very young panel most of them under twenty three, but the most important thing is that the players have now bought into the whole thing, living like professionals."

Eamon is married to Mary; they have two sons Ciaran and Padraig and a daughter Roisin. And as we finished our chat he added with a hearty laugh, "We never have a row because I am never at home". Irrespective what happens for the remainder of the year the story of the Kerry hurlers magnificent run of success will gladden the hearts of all those wonderful passionate lovers of the game in the Kingdom. They are a special breed, continuously swimming the tide and popularity of the bigger ball, the great work being done over the years by the clubs and schools of North Kerry is beginning to really blossom. As in all sports hope springs eternal. 

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