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Eamonn Kelly says getting back to Croke Park is the goal 2015-04-30 07:17:00

Kerry hurling boss Eamon Kelly talks about his sides burning desire to get back to Croke Park

By Murt Murphy

Meeting Eamon Kelly back January, he left the local media know with a steely look in his eyes, that he was not too bothered about the League this season, hoping to do enough to stay in 2A, but he wanted to get back to Croke Park on June 6th more than anything else. Why? Because it hurt the manager and the players last year, when they underperformed on the biggest day of all and were beaten by Kildare in the Christy Ring Cup Final, their only no show in the 2014 season.

So winning the Christy Ring Cup was the managements and the player’s main goal this season, but instead, after a slow start, Kerry won back to back Div.2A titles and then achieved what many thought was impossible, travelled to Parnell Park and beat Antrim in the Promotion/Relegation play-off and are now a Div.1B side in 2016.

So what happened last year still grates Eamon Kelly and he is not afraid to talk about it. “Our plan was to try and just consolidate our league position but then you get on a run and cannot turn down these opportunities when they come. All I am saying here, is there was probably a lot of factors involved in what happened. If that does not drive us on, it’s no good. A lot of these guys are after losing two Christy Ring Finals in a row, so if you cannot learn from those disappointments, then it’s no good. The driving force for us beating Antrim was, we were in that very situation last year, we did not get across the line against Offaly, and we had achieved nothing really. “

“We are going to achieve nothing this year, unless we get back into Croke Park and get out performance right.  If you perform well on the day and you are beaten by a better team, then hats off to your opponents.  We did not perform that day, and you are right, we were flat from that Mayo game and I attribute a lot of factors for that.  But I also think that our squad is tighter this year, it’s younger, and probably more mature, but very tight. Everyone here on this squad is committed. There are probably better hurlers out there, but they are not prepared to put in the commitment that we want, and the lads realize that. They know that when they put in the commitment that they get a fair shot at it. We have a lot of lads that have got game time here, and it’s now far more competitive for places “

There are four past Christy Ring Cup teams, still in the competition Kerry, London, Westmeath and Down, and Kerry will face quality sides so it is not going to be an easy competition to win?

“We would not like London in Ruislip – we played them there last year and it was an awful tight pitch. We knew that they were not probably as fit as us, and it had to be a patient game, like the way we played them in the league this year, so I think that London are a very strong side. I think that Down, have nothing to lose coming down to play us, they have been waiting in the long grass, they have a performance, and we are below par, so we get turned over. Kildare’s focus and ambition is that they want to be the first county to do back to back titles. They have new players in, they have won their league title, they are the only team, in the leagues that are unbeaten so there are an awful lot of strong sides there, and we must perform”

Is the Kerry boss afraid of a Down backlash – not a great league – did not get out of Div. 2B, getting a lot of flak from fans and clubs up there, that the management are not doing things right –so could that make them a dangerous animal?


“I also know as a Tipp man, that they have done training camps for weekends in Tipperary.  They are not coming down here just to make up the numbers.  What I have stopped doing when people have said  it to me, like I gave 4 or 5 hours looking of DVDS  of Antrim, before we played them, and I was half way through it, and I said what  am I doing this for. We have only one focus and that is ourselves, because you often analyse the opposition to death. We will be giving Down every respect and we will be trying to get our performance right on the day, and that is all we can control. Whatever happens outside of that, things could go against you, players could get injured playing with their clubs in club championships, so anything can happen but all we can focus on, what we can get right ourselves. I know Down gave Kildare enough to do, in what was a very tight game in the League, and I know from talking to some of the Kildare lads that they felt Down were a good side. Down are putting a lot into this and their focus is winning the Christy Ring, and they know having won it before and having got a taste of it, what it’s like to be there, so they are going to be no pushover. “

The Kerry boss, would love to have 30 Kerry players in the squad but as he explains, some players are not prepared to give the necessary commitment, so he had to use outside players, like other counties have and the use of outside players might look bad to an outsider but he explains his dilemma

“The use of outside players is a difficult one to answer. We have 24 players on the panel and that’s what we have there was no more out there, there are players out there who for whatever reason don’t want to give the commitment, and if we don’t have you have to see what players are eligible to play for the county and can make the step up. If you also look at it Pat Kelly the difference he has made to us since he came he has been fantastic, Davy Butler is like one of the lads here he’s like one of their own, he loves it down here. It’s a difficult one. I would love to have to have a full fleet of Kerry players and there are enough players in Kerry that are capable of stepping up but there has to be a change in mind-set we’re not going to tolerate guys who have an a la carte approach to our training. I think that’s what stands to us at the minute. We said to guys here’s what’s expected here’s your training plan and if you’re not prepared to adhere to that you are in the wrong place. I think that until that mind-set is changed here then we might see the support coming back there was a laissez- faire type of approach to what was happening here and we can’t tolerate it. That’s why these guys are delighted to be able to go shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Clare, Limerick, Offaly and Wexford next year,  because they are as good hurlers there is no doubt about that.”


You demand standards of them but do the players demand higher standards from you and the management team.

“Oh definitely. We have to be complete professional just as their counterparts are doing in the football. We mightn’t have the same resources or whatever but the lads expects us to deliver. We do the video analysis, we have a top class coach in Conor Gleeson, we have a super fitness trainer in Damian Ryall, they would actually coach any top class side, and they’re at that level. Our backroom team is second to none, our stats with John Lucid, we have the medical team of Paudie Whelan and Angela and Anthony Kennedy, we’re doing everything right but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get the results.  But my thought on this thing is that unless you set the bar there and people know what to expect from you you’ll never actually reach that. That’s why took a zero tolerance on what we were expecting from players.”                   


The players seem to be happy with the set up and now feel that they have parity of esteem with the footballers.

“We’re expected to be professional but you can’t do it without the players. These are good players, they’re professional guys in the way they approach the game. At the end of the day no matter what we do if you haven’t the right players you can’t expect to get the right results. They’re top class guys, we’re not tolerating the messers, we’re fortunate that we have a very tight bunch of players. We still do not have a full panel of 30 players, last year we had 32 but we were carrying fellas just for the sake of it. We have a squad now that you can turn around and have options and players that can come in and make a difference in a tight game. The players have brought that edge to it.

 Bringing in someone like Pat Kelly who’s won an All -Ireland senior medal with Clare and he will tell you that the preparation is at the same level that had with Clare. When the rest of the guys hear that they get their chests out and they say to each let’s start doing those extra few gym sessions because it’s not enough to do three nights a week, they do recovery sessions in the pool, they do gym sessions and we have our own What’s App group, they put up posts and they have leaders in the groups and that’s what all top inter county sides are doing right now. We want for nothing from the County Board points of view, from our Liaison Officer John Joe Carroll , we are not going around cap in hand saying that we need x,y and z, we need for nothing and the lads know that. Our preparation is spot on and we’re being supported to do that.”

How much personal pressure is on Eamon Kelly to deliver the Christy Ring Cup?

“I should be going around telling you that I do not win the Christy Ring Cup to take the pressure off. But look I wouldn’t be back here only for that defeat in last year’s Christy Ring Cup Final. I’d be awake at night and I’d go back to my diary and look at everything I did last year. What can I learn from last year because if I’m not learning anything new than this will be no good?”

“There a couple of pieces of that jigsaw last year that we could have done differently and that’s why I would love to have that opportunity to go to Croke Park for the Christy Ring Cup Final again. Our focus is Croke Park but of course we cannot look past Down.”


Kelly calls for home Kerry supporters to come out on Saturday and support the team


“It’s great to have home advantage but it would be wonderful for the lads to get better support. There should be something done to bring in more support for the lads maybe you could involve the schools because even in Limerick the day we won the League against Westmeath we got good support that day and you couldn’t expect the same kind of support again the following week in Dublin. My thoughts on the League is that if you win your League then if you go to a playoff then the team that wins the League should have home venue at the very least.”


Will the success of gaining promotion to Division 1 B and the scenes that followed that victory in Parnell Park stand to you in the Christy Ring Cup this year despite the burden of the favourites tag?


“I don’t think any of us were ready for the flow of emotion after the win over Antrim in Parnell Park. I only witnessed something like that once before and that is when my own club won the first All-Ireland Intermediate Hurling club title. I remember that dressing room that day and I will never forget it but the lads surpassed even that up in Parnell Park. It was an incredible atmosphere because it meant so much to the lads. We also know that the only way we can ever get to that level of euphoria is to win a Christy Ring. If they manage that then this group of players will have separated themselves from a lot of Kerry teams in that they will have back to back Leagues, gained promotion to Division 1 and also to Liam McCarthy hurling. If you’re a Division One side you’re expected to be a Liam McCarthy team so there is huge pressure on us but there is also huge incentive. We had to pull the lads back from celebrating the League Promotion because of the Christy Ring, but they can celebrate for a week if they win that.”