Tuesday 16 January 2018

Kelly battling to see off curse of the cruciate

Kildare All Star Peter Kelly has spent the last three months running in swimming pools, clocking up mileage on stationary bikes and pumping iron as he battles back to fitness
Kildare All Star Peter Kelly has spent the last three months running in swimming pools, clocking up mileage on stationary bikes and pumping iron as he battles back to fitness

If Kildare's All Star corner-back Peter Kelly didn't like rollercoaster rides before, he's learnt to stomach such trips over the past 18 months. A rise last year that stretched the boundaries of the term 'meteoric' was followed by a terrifying descent, thanks to a dreadful twist of his knee in February while playing for UCD in an O'Byrne Cup match against Meath.

Within days he had joined the bizarrely crowded ranks of Lilywhite seniors with torn anterior cruciate ligaments.

From hoping to consolidate his position as one of his county's football superstars, Kelly has spent the last three months at the mind-numbing daily grind of post-op rehab; running in pools, clocking up mileage on stationary bikes, pumping iron.

Fortunately, his recovery hasn't been as problematic as many of his county team-mates and he sees them regularly, whether in their gym at The K Club or in his weekly visit to training.

More than most Kelly, just turned 22, has time and talent on his side.

But he is still a month away from even running again and, after going from nought to 60 in one summer, to be stopped dead in his tracks has been frustrating.

But he hasn't wanted for support, not least from the little rural club he has helped put on the map.

To call Two Mile House a village would be an exaggeration. While the Celtic Tiger roared, a large clutch of modern houses sprang up around its tiny, picturesque church and the primary school opposite it. That's it really.

There is no local shop and they only got a watering hole in 2009 when the acclaimed Brown Bear restaurant suddenly sprang up.

Two Mile House is essentially a widely sprawling townland and, like many of its ilk, the glue that binds its people together is a GAA club that far exceeds its resources.

You'll find its neat pitch on 10 acres, down a side-road, halfway between Naas and Kilcullen.

It took them nearly 100 years to settle there, after a peripatetic existence of borrowing and renting land until they finally bought five acres at Harristown Common in 1980.

The club crest, fittingly, features a rare orchid that grows locally and a Bianconi coach, as the village was a stopping point on the old coaching route to Clonmel.

The club produced Jim O'Connor, who played alongside the legendary Larry Stanley when Kildare won the 1919 All-Ireland final, but it has only won the county junior title once (1994), is still in the junior ranks and has a long history of close-but-no-cigar finishes.

Even back in 1935, when they reached their first county final and won it on the field of play, the title still went to Raheens thanks to the dreaded 'ban'; apparently because one of Two Mile House's players had entered a pony in a gymkhana organised by a cricket club!


Recent years have brought their own litany of heartache.

With Kelly on board, they have reached the semi-finals of the Kildare junior championship for the last four years, made the finals in 2007 and 2009, and still didn't win it.

Which is why when, little more than four months after playing his first full senior game for Kildare, Kelly found it so surreal to be sitting on a podium in Dublin clutching a coveted All Star last winter.

For a junior club to produce an All Star is not only testimony to the innate democracy of GAA structures, but a reward for all of those locally who helped develop him.

Kelly's ascension in 2010 defied all the odds. The only thing he had ever previously won was a county U-16 'B' medal.

He only joined the Kildare senior panel in the spring, made one appearance (as a substitute) in the last round of the NFL, and was still only on the fringes for their Leinster SFC opener last June.

And then fate, in the shape of Louth, intervened. The Kildare management had planned to let him develop primarily with the county U-21s last summer, but that nightmare trip to Navan saw them tear up their defensive script.

Kelly's quicksilver transition to inter-county star was helped, he acknowledges, by also playing with UCD, where he's been on a GAA scholarship and is currently sitting his finals in Business and Law.

Particularly pacy and played anywhere between Nos 6 and 11 by the club, it was at Belfield that he first played corner-back, and he was also a huge loss to the college this year when they hosted the Sigerson centenary.

This weekend Two Mile House play Rathcoffey in the opening round of the Kildare junior championship.

"It's nearly the hardest of all, horrible!" Kelly admits. "I'll be there, of course, but watching the club, even training, is really difficult because I just naturally want to join in."

They have missed him just as much, says Derek Whyte. In his mid-30s and just retired from playing, Whyte has already done three years as club PRO and is in his fifth as secretary. "Once you get a job around here you can't get out of it!" he chuckles.

After developing five more acres, the club is about to buy new goalposts for a second adult pitch and two smaller ones.

They've just gone 'in-house' for their new senior manager Tommy O'Sullivan, assisted by another local stalwarth Gus Collins.

They couldn't survive without sponsors Tynagh Energy, local joinery Burke Bros and Dunlea's garage, yet what the recession has cost them most is teenage players, "because so many local families have emigrated," Whyte explains.

Yet every Friday night they can still have 120-plus kids out training and it's paying off.

Their U-16 boys got to the Division 2 league final and they're strong enough now at juvenile level not to need to band together anymore with nearby county intermediate champions Ballymore Eustace.

Kelly isn't the juveniles' only role model.

His older brother Matt (28), a regular county junior, got the call-up from Kieran McGeeney this year and, through the parentage rule, Niall Browne is also now an inter-county senior, with Clare.

But Peter Kelly is, quite literally, the club's pride and joy.

"Peter winning an All Star was the biggest thing to happen around here in 100 years!" Whyte says.

"And he has done so much for us since; coaching, helping out, visiting schools and not just for our own club. He is a wise head on young shoulders."

This weekend Two Mile House's All Star can only watch from the sidelines, but will mentally kick every ball with them because, as the advertising slogan says: 'Club is Family'.

Irish Independent

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