GAA Museum Legends Virtual Tour - Eoin Kelly
Eoin Kelly, the brilliant former Tipperary forward, reflects on:
- Winning All Irelands with Tipperary
- Captaining Tipperary to All Ireland glory
- Kelly's early influences in Mullinahone
- Trying to assist other players
By Cian O’Connell
In the Cusack Stand dressing room on All Ireland Hurling Final day after the chaos ended, the Liam MacCarthy Cup was surrounded by the blue and gold team.
Still a teenager, Eoin Kelly remembers the joy which followed the sacrifice and effort. Tipperary were on top of the hurling world and the future glimmered with promise.
Things can change briskly in sport, though, and the gifted Mullinahone forward had to wait another nine years before captaining the Premier County to All Ireland glory.
Those were amongst Kelly’s career highlights, but the friendships forged and bonds created matter deeply too.
In 1993 Kelly vividly recalls watching his older brother, Paul, feature for Tipperary in the Tony Forristal Under 14 tournament. “I remember my brother Paul played with Tipperary in the 1993 Tony Forristal tournament and so did Paddy O'Brien, who went on to play for Tipperary senior hurlers, the current Tipperary physio,” Kelly says in a Bord Gais Energy Legends GAA Museum Virtual Tour.
“I remember bringing the hurl looking for someone to puck around with and that happened to be John O'Brien, someone my own age. We might have been 10 or 11, we went on to be very good friends and won an All Ireland together in 2001 and 2010. To this day we are still friends, family friends.”
Those links counted for so much in Kelly’s development. The journeys to matches, the constant practising and monitoring others helped to craft one of Tipperary’s greatest ever forwards.
“My dad would have been the biggest influence,” Kelly admits. “He brought us to the games. He had his own love for hurling, that was a massive influence. In Mullinahone you had John Leahy playing in All Irelands for Tipp, Brian O'Meara followed on.
“Tipperary teams now had representatives from our club, Mullinahone, and that was another inspiration. You were going watching them playing.
“You wanted to emulate what they had done. For 10 or 15 years there was always a Mullinahone guy on the teamsheet from minor hurling, Under 21, even for 20 years at senior hurling.
“Each generation nearly inspired each other which often happens in a small rural area. We had great times and we were having success in Mullinahone.
“You had some heroes there like John Leahy, who played for Tipp, Brian O'Meara played for Tipp. We were looking at all of these guys. Really what we wanted to be we were looking at them out on the pitch. They really were our inspiration, they were at home, they were local.
“Mullinahone, my local club, was having success on the pitch, which they hadn't had for years, winning county finals and contesting county finals. That was a great time as a kid. As it rolled on every Sunday you were going to a match.”
Kelly occupied a central role in the Tipperary hurling story too and the 2001 triumph illustrated what could be achieved.
“As a 19 year old you probably don't fully understand it to be honest,” Kelly acknowledges. “You probably think this is going to happen regularly, for me it definitely didn't. Tipperary around that time under the management of Nicky English had been building.
“I was corner forward, Lar Corbett was corner forward, both of us were Under 21 at the time. Declan Ryan was 33 and that was his last game, you had an unbelievable blend of youth and experience in that line.”
The rest of the decade brought plenty of demoralising days for Tipperary, but Liam Sheedy’s arrival as manager in 2008 injected hope and confidence. Suddenly Tipperary started feeling good about themselves once more.
“Like anything, in your career you have ups and downs,” Kelly admits. “That was probably the case with mine with Tipperary. We had good days and bad days, probably more bad days than good days. When you get involved in inter-county hurling that is what comes with the territory.
“In 2008 Liam Sheedy came in as Tipperary manager on the back of Tipperary winning All Ireland minors in 2006 and 2007. We had a couple of good players that came into the squad. I always remember Liam Sheedy saying that with this squad we are going to go on a journey.
“To finish it off on the steps of the Hogan Stand raising the Liam MacCarthy on behalf of an unbelievable squad that had put in three years of unmerciful training, sacrifices, and work. We really had a close bond. That definitely was something special.”