Banner can learn from copying Kilkenny, says Kelly
It'll be a much quieter winter for Tony Kelly this year. And perhaps, that's no harm.
The end of 2013 must have been dizzying. There were endless events to attend and awards to pick up. All the while, Kelly and Co were gathering plaudits from a loving county and a grateful hurling public. The little bit of distance now allows Kelly to reflect on all that has gone before.
He can see now how the exploits of last year affected both the Clare panel in general and Kelly himself. Winning two All-Ireland medals and being named the undisputed best player in the country after picking up both the Young Hurler and Hurler of the Year awards, took their toll.
Clare needed extra-time to get past Wexford on their way to All-Ireland glory last year, but the Slaneysiders gunned them down this time around as the Banner's season never really got off the ground.
"There's no doubt it did take a bit out of us," says Kelly of last year's celebrations. "It's something we can learn from. Kilkenny are doing it 10 years and they have no bother coming back year after year. We are a young team and we can only learn from this and hopefully we can learn from our mistakes from what we did wrong this year and put it right in the future.
"But there is no doubt that it does take a bit out of you, mentally more than physically. That's just something we'll have to learn."
On a personal level, Kelly came in for a lot more attention in 2014. Regularly being marked by the opposition's best defender presented a different challenge but it's one he's happy to contend with.
"I suppose it does put a different spin on it, but you are going to have to adapt. Podge (Collins) is in the same boat as well. In other counties, Conor McDonald will probably be in the same boat next year. He's new on the team this year. It's just something you are going to have to adapt to. It's something you have to get used to and I am well used to it now."
After the mini-revolution of 2013, hurling's 'Big Three' re-established themselves as the front-runners this year and Kelly's hoping a season on the periphery will see Clare return stronger in 2015.
"Each player has got to draw a line in the sand and leave the previous year in the past and focus on the new year ahead and forget about what has gone on in the previous year," he said.
"That maybe is harder to do after winning an All-Ireland than not winning an All-Ireland because you need the same drive.
"I have no doubt that the players did have the same drive this year, but it did take a bit of a toll on us overall as a whole team. Maybe not on some lads, but collectively I'd say it did."
There'll be fewer banquets to attend but there's still plenty on the line. The quarter-final draw for the Clare championship has pitted Kelly's Ballyea against parish rivals Clarecastle.
On the county scene, Kelly's glittering underage career has at most just two games left to run, starting with Saturday's Bord Gais Energy All-Ireland U-21 semi-final clash with Antrim. A win there would leave them just 60 minutes away from a third All-Ireland title in a row.
That milestone would put the cap on a golden era of underage hurling for Clare. Under the tutelage of Donal Moloney and Gerry O'Connor, Kelly and a handful of others won a fifth consecutive Munster crown across the minor and U-21 grades, and that success has helped build an extraordinarily tight bond in the group.
"We all went to the same schools there was maybe 15 of us in St Flannans and the other 15 probably went to St Caimin's and we all played against each other in club championship," he said.
"To sign off an underage career with a win is something you always want to do and that's something we set out at the start of the year to do with Donal and Gerry.
"The first objective was to win Munster and we did that. The next part is trying to win an All-Ireland but we are under no illusions. It will be tough like it is every year to win an All-Ireland. We are just looking forward to going out and playing again."