We need repeat title to join greats -- Kelly
WITH a shrug of his young shoulders -- shoulders that bore such a responsibility last season -- Tony Kelly calculated the distance.
It was of a run he completed solo through Cratloe Woods at 5.0 on Christmas Eve morning in 2012 with the lights of Davy Fitzgerald's jeep guiding him on his way, the clip of which is a highlight of the commemorative DVD 'Behind the Banner'.
"Seventeen or 18 miles," he ventured, his face expressionless at the thought of it.
The future Hurler of the Year had set off on his lonely journey long before dawn that morning to accommodate an early start of work.
His colleagues set off some 90 minutes later when the light on one the shortest days of the year had still to emerge. The distance is not something he chooses to isolate or highlight; nor is the sacrifice made.
"I suppose a lot has been made of it because it came out on the DVD, but most inter-county teams are doing early-morning sessions," suggested the Ballyhea man at yesterday's launch of a new partnership between the GAA and the Irish Blood Transfusion Service.
"Maybe Clare started it in the 1990s when Ger Loughnane brought it in but, even talking to (Dublin footballer) Eoghan O'Gara there, he said he was up this morning at quarter to five, so every inter-county team is at it. Maybe a lot has been made of it because of the DVD, but you can be sure others are doing it as well.
"Maybe at the time you don't think it will stand to you, but all those trainings stand to players."
Impressive as their first All-Ireland senior title as a group was, Kelly knows that they can never be considered a great hurling team until they add a second title at the very least.
"Any good team wins an All-Ireland, but if you look at Kilkenny they were branded a great team because they kept winning All-Irelands year after year, and it was the same with Cork in the early 2000s," he said.
"They were branded a great team because they were winning two, three, four All-Irelands.
"We won't be regarded anywhere near a great team unless we win an All-Ireland and that's something we're striving to do and very much have a focus on doing."
Only back over the weekend from the team holiday to Cancun in Mexico, Kelly feels Clare won't be long applying themselves to the same rigorous training regime that served them so well in Fitzgerald's first two years.
He is unconcerned at any perception that they are behind where they were 12 months ago.
"If you look at the other side of it, other teams were out of the championship before us. We were hurling up until September 28, so maybe we won't have lost that much fitness between September and December.
"I suppose they've maybe a four or five-week head-start on us; we won't be long getting that sharpness and fitness in January and February, so I have no worries in that regard.
"People say that the break isn't too long, but I can't wait to get back into action -- and from speaking to a few of the lads, they're the same way.
"Maybe being on a few trips you're tired of travelling and just want to get back to basics and training and playing matches.
"I'm looking forward to getting back into the swing of things."
Kelly anticipates that his team-mates Podge and Sean Collins will find it tough fulfilling obligations with the football and hurling squads in 2014 after committing to divide their time between both.
"I was speaking to Eoin Cadogan at the All Stars about when he was doing it and he was saying it was very tough -- especially the demands on players now with the levels both sports have got to.
"If you look at teams now, teams are getting younger and younger; the days of a 30-year-old hurler or footballer are going, there's not many around. From a personal point of view, I think I would find it very tough to keep both going."