Tony Kelly's high standards raising Clare as a collective
By John Harrington
Tony Kelly’s audacious sideline cut that brought Clare’s epic Munster SHC Final against Limerick to extra-time was one of those shake your head moments.
As much as you know Kelly is a hurling genius, as he lined it up from such a narrow angle on his left side from the left sideline you felt this was too big an ask even for him.
His Banner County team-mate, Cathal Malone, wasn’t all that surprised though that Kelly arced the ball over the bar with almost insolent ease.
He’s seen him replicate such feats many times in training, and it’s Kelly’s dedication to self-improvement as much as his natural ability that really impresses his team-mates.
“The sidelines, he’s been practicing those,” says Malone. “You can see him put them over the bar before we train. A lot of players were in no doubt it was going over the bar and the best man to take it was Tony.
“He’s just incredible, he really drives the standard both in training and in matches. He works incredibly hard as well and he’s always looking to improve and he’s always driving us on to improve. We want to do the same, he sets the standard and we just have to try and keep going.
“Everyone is trying to get better all the time and everyone is trying to perform and everyone wants to perform. We have a panel of 40 players and everyone is driving it at training and it’s important that we keep driving it. You can see it in how Ryan Taylor, David Fitzgerald and Rory (Hayes) are all playing.”
Kelly’s miracle-sideline was ultimately in vain as far as the result in the Munster Final went with Limerick finding a winning surge in extra-time.
But the fact they pushed the All-Ireland champions to the very limit for the third time this year should act as a well-spring of encouragement for everyone – management, players, and supporters alike.
There was already an impressive collective energy about Clare before the Munster Final, and the presence of a big crowd of Clare supporters in Semple Stadium again this Saturday for the All-Ireland SHC quarter-final against Wexford should underline that the Banner County is still very much on a mission.
“Yeah, you can see that everyone is going the same way,” says Malone. “As a squad of players everyone is together and I think that helps then as well.
“The whole group, the management, are pushing each other, are ambitious, and we’re a really tight group and really enjoying our hurling at the minute and maybe the Clare support sees that.
“The round-robin series, when you’ve games week on week, it really helps to build a bit of momentum and gets the supporters coming to games as well. We had the first two games in Thurles, and then the two home games really brought the crowd together. Especially if you’re doing okay, you’ll have a lot of extra supporters.
“We felt we just gave it everything in the Munster final, and we’re disappointed obviously with the result but the support throughout the game was excellent and the atmosphere was excellent as well.
“As players, we want to switch our focus immediately. Of course it was disappointing, but you have to switch your focus, otherwise you’re punished the following game. If you’re not 100 per cent tuned in, you will be punished and you will be knocked out – so we have to switch our focus immediately and there’s a big battle coming ahead on.”