Kelly keen to play through the pain and eradicate Kilkenny's self-belief

Conor McKeon

WHILE the hurling world waits on the injury news and pending miracles from Nowlan Park, it's worth noting that Henry Shefflin is not the only assassin bidding to play through the pain barrier on Sunday.

Granted, Eoin Kelly's back injury isn't quite as debilitating as a torn cruciate ligament but there have been times in the last two years when the Mullinahone man has questioned his continued participation in the sport.

Over the past two years, Kelly has been at war with his back but admits the injury is a result of his "own stupidity".

However, he can relate to Shefflin's desire to make an improbable appearance against all medical logic this Sunday.

"I have seen it myself with the club, playing as club captain when I was banjaxed," admits Kelly.

"It was my own stupidity which brought on a lot of the back injuries.

"Even though it is more scientific and players know that they are out, there is still something about GAA players that they want to play.

"Lads nearly want to play for their club before their county because with the county, if the physio says you're gone, you're gone.

"But at club level there might not be physios and you just have to get out there.

"Henry is the kind of guy that wants to play for Kilkenny and wants to win All-Irelands for Kilkenny.

"There are personal goals there in terms of winning his eighth All-Ireland medal.

"Knowing him as a person and player he will put those personal goals to one side.

"You can see it in his play he is a team player. I am sure if he is called upon he will be the first person to come in. It's a big call."

Kelly's disc problem is a constant pest though he reckons the extra stretching and core work he puts in to loosen it up could add a couple of years to his career.

And he says that watching forwards like Noel McGrath make an immediate impact at the top level has given him extra hunger to extend his playing days. Along with the likes of Brendan Cummins and Lar Corbett, Kelly has served as vital link man between the All-Ireland winning team of 2001 and this current crop of spectacularly talented Tipp youngsters.

"They have amazed me," he admits. "They are playing way beyond their years and even when they are in the dressing room as individuals they are well beyond their years.

"They never came in bluffing on about winning back-to-back minor titles and contesting Under-21 finals.

"It was all about when is the next game. To see some of the things those boys do in training is incredible."

Kelly also has a vital and unique insight into the Kilkenny philosophy, though.

He attended Ireland's premier hurling nursery, St Kieran's, Kilkenny, and played on an All-Ireland Colleges-winning team in 2000 along with the likes of Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh and Brian Hogan.

It was there that he honed his skills but he also got a feel of the sense of invincibility which will fill the opposing dressing room this Sunday.

"I had that thing with the Kieran's jersey that I never thought I would be beaten," he says.

"In all the time we were there we played 45 games and was only ever beaten in one game.

"That is just the belief that is there at underage and in the schools in Kilkenny, especially St Kieran's and that has transferred into the Kilkenny jersey now.

"You'd love to be in the position they are in," Kelly adds. "It nearly drives you on a bit."