‘Time to bring it home’ – Tony Kelly’s rallying call for Clare’s Munster title quest
Six years ago Tony Kelly committed an act of apparent hurling blasphemy, advocating that the Munster Championship could be sacrificed for a national group-based competition.
His premise was simple: more games were needed and the greater focus for the top teams was on an All-Ireland title anyway.
That was a couple of months before a switch to provincial round-robin groups was flagged and prior to the first of the three Munster finals that Kelly has played in for Clare and lost.
His view of the landscape may have changed since then and, with that, the imperative for Clare to end a 25-year sequence without a Munster title.
Surveying the scene around a Cusack Park ‘full house’ on Sunday after their epic one-point win over Cork, an All-Ireland title was a remote aspiration. There is only one focus for Clare right now and Kelly articulated as much afterwards. “There are a lot of lads in that dressing-room who weren’t even born the last time we won Munster,” he pointed out.
“It is definitely on our checklist every year. We haven’t been able to win it the last three goes of it (2017, 2018 and 2022). It is all about learning. We are in the exact same spot as last year. No better off, no worse. We have to bring it home this time. Simple as that.
“We have three weeks the way the schedule has worked out which is favourable. All our group games are played, there is another round next week while we’re off.”
After a quiet opening game against Tipperary, Kelly exploded into life against Limerick and has carried that form through the Waterford and Cork games, scoring 1-4 from play in the first half on Sunday before adding a second-half penalty. He has played on the inside line for long spells, working off Peter Duggan as the target and it was that combination that led to Clare’s opening goal on Sunday.
“Peter is excellent in the air,” said Kelly. “If he isn’t catching it, his man isn’t catching it. Other than that his work-rate up there is phenomenal. Around the break, it is going to bobble out loose somewhere. He is a massive focal point for us.”
Another thing Clare have been using to their advantage is the crowds supporting them and with an All-Ireland minor final to come the county is on a hurling high as the scenes at the end of Sunday’s game illustrated.
“We weren’t happy with our performance here (against Tipperary) the first day,” said Kelly. We didn’t give the crowd anything to latch on to. You have to make home games count for atmosphere, especially with the crowds going to games now. ‘Mac’ (David McInerney, right after Cork’s third goal brought them level) got that score the crowd were right in behind us again.”