Colin Kelly rolls back the years to win another club championship
By John Harrington
Former Louth and Westmeath manager, Colin Kelly, proved there’s life in the old dog yet by helping his club Dreadnots win the Louth Junior 2B County Football Championship Final last weekend.
Seven years after he’d last played a senior club championship match for the club, he laced up the boots again to line out for the Clogherhead club in both the semi-final and Saturday’s county final.
He played a key role too in Dreadnots’ 1-13 to 0-12 victory over Naomh Mairtin. Not bad going for a 48-year-old who won a senior club championship 31 years ago and thought his playing days were long behind him.
“I didn't have any intention of playing football this year, to be honest with you, but when you're a small club and four or five of the Junior team end up playing in the senior championship and you don't have the numbers, then you get a knock on your door,” Kelly told GAA.ie
“A conversation over a few pints one night ended up with me agreeing to tog out for the semi-final. So I togged out for the semi-final and then obviously the final.
“You have different worries when you play football at my age. When you're 18 or 19 the only worry you have is winning or losing.
“But when you're 48 the worry is that just don't want to get hurt. Ah, but, listen, it was grand.
“The way it happened, you do get the buzz back and the winning was great. There are a lot of young guys in the club and to actually experience winning a championship with them was brilliant.
“There was two of us, myself and Darren Malone, who both were 48 togging out and would have won an intermediate championship together back in 2005.
“It's nearly actually funny for us now, to be winning a club championship again. But it's great for the club and it's great for the community. For my kids to be there to see me playing competitively and winning a county title was nice.
“We won the intermediate Championship in 2008 and I was player-manager that day and my daughter was the mascot and she was only two or something. So this was the first time that my two kids saw me playing in a competitive environment.”
Kelly did a lot more than make up the numbers in Saturday’s Final. Playing in the inside forward line, the former Louth senior star showed he still has the predatory instincts that once made him one of the best forwards in the country.
“Listen, if there was a line inside the inside forward line, that's where I was!”, said Kelly. “I couldn't have been any closer to the goals.
“It worked out though, I scored a goal with a minute to go and it was an important goal because there was a point in it at the time.
“We were one point up and time was running out and fortunately enough the goalkeeper made a mistake and I got on the end of it and scored the goal.
“It was a good buzz, because at the end of the day you do find yourself getting immersed in it. I was talking to Seamus O'Hanlon today and one of the problems for fellas like us going out and playing in that sort of situation is that you always take these things seriously.
“The competitive edge comes out in you once you get onto the pitch again. You want to win. As soon as that goal went in you find yourself going into winning mode and doing all you can to try to close out the game.
“But at the same time there's a little voice in your brain saying, 'Jesus Christ, you're nearly 50, would you act your age!' You know what I mean? It's different, but at the same time it's good.”
Kelly mightn’t have been acting his age out on the pitch, but he celebrated the win a little differently than he might have had when he was a younger man.
“In the past if you won Championships you'd be gone bananas for two days whereas on Saturday night I went out for something to eat with my wife Pamela,” he said.
“So we only caught the tail-end of the celebrations at 10 o'clock that night. But it was a great experience.
“And, look, to be able to go back into that environment once more where it's a County Final and there's a programme and plenty of people at the game and there's elation when the final whistle goes, it was great.
“When the goal went in you switch into a different mode and then you just say to yourself at the end, 'would you catch a hold of yourself!'
“Ah no, good fun, good fun. That's the most important thing.”
Kelly has been very busy on the inter-county scene as both a manager and coach in recent years.
He managed his native Louth to successive League promotions in 2016 and 2017, took charge of the Westmeath footballers for the 2018 season, and this year was part of Wexford manager Paul McLoughlin’s backroom team for their Championship campaign.
His unexpected return to the playing fields might have ended with a county medal, but he’s adamant he won’t be lacing up his boots again in 2020 and intends to manage a club team instead.
“That's the plan,” he said. “I did a good bit of work with Paul McLoughlin down in Wexford after the National League this year and the plan this year is get back at it and get back involved with a club of some description and see can I win a county championship as a manager. That's the next goal.
“I just want to get back at that level, because when it's in you it's in you and it's very hard to walk away from it.
“When the competitive edge goes from a playing point of view, coaching and management is the next best thing. I didn't think I'd be back playing this year, but it's definitely gone from me now!
“It was enjoyable, but back to reality now.”