Sport Hurling

Wednesday 1 March 2017

Battle of Kellys to prove crucial factor in showdown

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

WHILE Tipperary supporters consult each other for confirmation that Eoin Kelly will be fit to play in the All-Ireland semi-final on Sunday, their Waterford counterparts are just as concerned about their equivalent of the same name.

There are no reports of injury worries concerning Waterford's Eoin Kelly, but he has long since become such an important part of their scoring apparatus that the Deise followers always relax when they see his familiar gait ambling onto the pitch and preparing for his practice routine.

His presence as a free-taker wasn't always as important, but, since the departure of Paul Flynn, it's difficult to envisage a Waterford team without Kelly's influential hands contributing large totals virtually every time he plays. Suffice to say that when they don't, Waterford usually lose.

Already in this championship he has scored 1-22 -- which represents just over 40pc of Waterford's haul. A total of 0-17 has come from placed balls, with 1-5 from open play, which leaves him two points behind John Mullane as their top scorers from open play. Indeed, it must be of concern to Waterford that wing-back Tony Browne (1-1) is joint third with Kevin Moran (0-4) on the scoring table. It suggests that the reliance on Kelly (from frees and open play) and Mullane is unhealthily high.

What would happen if Kelly had an off-day with his frees? Or if Mullane experienced one of those frustrating afternoons, which has happened occasionally, when he won quite a lot of possession but couldn't quite turn it into scores? In fairness to both Kelly and Mullane, their consistency levels are usually quite high.

Once Kelly gets his eye in on placed balls, the length or angle of the strike tends to make no difference. Indeed, he delivered one of the outstanding striking exhibitions of 2010 when he scored 1-17 (0-15 from placed balls) of Waterford's 2-20 total in an NHL game against Cork last March.

Tipperary's Eoin Kelly is just as important to the blue and gold. He has scored 1-33 (0-27 from placed balls) in this year's championship, representing just over 38pc of their overall return. Lar Corbett (2-10) and the rapidly improving Ger Ryan (1-9), who made a big impact against Galway in the quarter-final, have also done well but there's quite a fall-off after that, with Seamus Callanan (1-2), Brendan Maher (0-5) and Noel McGrath (0-5) next on the scoring table.

It's difficult to believe that Kelly is now in his 10th year as a Tipperary senior or, indeed, that he was out of favour for a while back in 2007. Now, he is back as their sniper-in-chief, which makes it all the more crucial for Tipp that he plays on Sunday.

Indeed, the inevitable shoot-out between the two Eoin Kellys could ultimately decide who reaches the All-Ireland final. They last went head-to-head at Croke Park in the 2008 semi-final with the advantage going to the Waterford hitman, who out-scored his namesake by 1-10 to 0-8 as the Deise won by two points.

Irish Independent

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