Sport Hurling

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Premier's deadly duo

Kelly and Corbett still shooting for the stars, writes Jackie Cahill

Eoin Kelly, left, and Lar
Corbett celebrate after Kelly
scored their side's third goal,
set up by Corbett during last
year's All-Ireland semi-final
Eoin Kelly, left, and Lar Corbett celebrate after Kelly scored their side's third goal, set up by Corbett during last year's All-Ireland semi-final

WITH a massive senior hurling championship haul of 46 goals and 406 points between them, captain Eoin Kelly and 2010 Hurler of the Year Lar Corbett are locked in a riveting battle to be remembered as arguably the greatest Tipperary forward in the county's history.

Corbett became Tipperary's record championship goalscorer against Clare in June's Munster SHC semi-final, when his 21st strike moved him one clear of Nicky English at the top of charts.

On the same day, Kelly's 19th strike moved him one ahead of Jimmy Doyle and within striking distance of the 20-goal haul amassed by English during the course of his glittering career.

And then, on July 10, a day when records tumbled during the course of a memorable Munster final performance, Kelly's brace moved him into second place ahead of English, as Corbett's four-goal salvo brought up his quarter-century of championship strikes.

Next Sunday, the goal-hungry duo will have their sights firmly set on a Dublin defence that will have to be on red alert. Despite a combined age of 59, Kelly and Corbett's contribution to the Tipperary senior hurling team has never been more important and has increased steadily on an annual basis since 2007.

As skipper, Kelly has shown remarkable leadership skills, while Corbett has taken his game to a new level in recent seasons, bagging hat-tricks in the 2009 All-Ireland semi-final against Limerick and in last year's final against Kilkenny, before shooting the lights out with that sensational 4-4 haul against Waterford in this year's Munster final.

Where it all began:

2001 All-Ireland senior hurling final

Tipperary collected a 25th All-Ireland senior hurling championship crown in 2001 with a 2-19 to 2-15 win over Galway.

Mark O'Leary will be forever remembered for his 2-1 contribution to the scoreboard, but Kelly and Corbett, 19 and 20 years of age respectively on that September afternoon, both played key roles.

Corbett had been plucked from obscurity by manager English and made his debut in a South East League match against Clare in October 2000. In 2001, he scored four points in the National Hurling League final and amassed 4-11 in six games during that campaign.

And despite calls for his omission from the team for the All-Ireland final, the Thurles Sarsfields man rewarded English's faith by notching two crucial points from play on a day when Kelly collected 0-7.

The pair's combined contribution of 0-9 accounted for 36pc of Tipperary's scores against Galway.

Tipperary would not win another All-Ireland title until 2010 and, last season, Kelly and Corbett's tally of 9-56 saw them hit a massive 54.97pc of the Premier County's seasonal tally.

average contributions per game

Since making his debut against Galway in 2000, Kelly has made 52 championship appearances for Tipperary, scoring 21-342 in the process.

Naturally, his role as the team's free-taker has bulked up that tally considerably but, taken as an average per game, Kelly can be relied upon to contribute over seven points a match.

Since 2001, Corbett has made 46 championship appearances and scored 25-64, giving him an average of just over 5.5 points per match. But it's as a specialist goalscorer that Corbett has excelled and in the last three seasons alone, Corbett has bagged 18 of his 25 goals.

Tipperary's six starting forwards next Sunday have amassed 59-514 during their championship careers to date, with Kelly and Corbett accounting for 78.73pc of that total score.

2007 annus horribilis

It was a difficult championship campaign for Tipperary in 2007 and one that marked the end of Michael 'Babs' Keating's controversial second spell at the helm. Kelly claimed that he was fit for the All-Ireland quarter-final against Wexford, but was left on the bench, along with Brendan Cummins and Shane McGrath, as Tipp exited the championship.

Kelly did appear as a substitute in that game and scored three points, including two frees, taking his seasonal tally to a respectable 1-38 from six outings. Corbett, a championship ever-present four years ago, finished the year with 3-11 and the pair's combined 4-49 made up 39.87pc of Tipperary's overall tally.

Kelly could have finished the year with far more, but in the first of the Munster championship trilogy against Limerick, Keating opted to place Willie Ryan on free-taking duties and did so again for the qualifier victory against Dublin.

2008 -- present

As Tipperary inched towards the Holy Grail of the Liam MacCarthy Cup during Liam Sheedy's three seasons at the helm, Kelly and Corbett led the charge.

Kelly and Corbett's contribution on the scoreboard increased accordingly as Tipp improved each year.

The 2008 season saw Tipperary play three championship games and they were crowned Munster champions for the first time since 2001. Kelly and Corbett finished with 1-28 between them, Kelly hitting 1-21, which equates to 44.29pc of the seasonal total.

In the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Waterford, Corbett managed just a single point, the last time he has been so ineffective in a scoring sense in a championship game.

In 2009, Tipperary retained the Munster championship and took another significant step forward by contesting an All-Ireland final. Though losing to Kilkenny, Kelly hit 0-13 and Corbett added 0-4 -- all but six points of Tipp's game tally.

In a remarkable display, Kelly hit 1-3 before half-time in the Munster final against Waterford, despite receiving a pain-killing epidural for a back injury just days before the game.

Kelly and Corbett hit 8-41 two years ago (Kelly 2-30, Corbett 6-11), pushing their percentage contribution to the team's overall tally up to 48.15pc.

Last year saw Tipperary recover from a 10-point defeat against Cork in the Munster championship to finish the year as All-Ireland champions. Corbett managed just 0-2 at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, but shot the lights out for the remainder of the season, finishing with 6-12. Add in Kelly's 3-44 and you have 9-56 for the free-scoring pair, or 54.97pc of the seasonal total, up 6.82pc from 2009.

Tipp's incremental improvement saw them get over the line having been cruelly denied 12 months before, with Kelly and Corbett's scoring touch obviously playing a crucial role.

no signs of slowing down . . .

In just three championship games this year, Corbett and Kelly have already scored more goals than in any other championship season, with 10 to date. The duo bagged 10-22 in the Munster championship (Corbett 6-6) and their combined total represents 55.91pc of Tipp's championship tally thus far.

conclusion

The general consensus after the 2009 All-Ireland final was that Tipperary needed Kelly and Corbett fully fit and firing a year later to bridge the gap and become All-Ireland champions.

And already this year, their contribution to Tipp's Munster championship success, and planned defence of the MacCarthy Cup, has been simply invaluable. Which begs the question, who is going to step up to the plate when these hurling maestros finally call it a day?

For now, Tipp fans should appreciate the special times in which they are living. And they must surely appreciate that arguably the two finest forwards the county has ever produced will wear numbers 13 and 15 at Croke Park on Sunday.

Irish Independent

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