'Dual-star' Kelly believes Limerick ready to get over line
Limerick football boss Maurice Horan may have finally cut the ties to release dual players Mike O'Brien and Stephen Lucey to the county hurlers this week, but he still has one key man who successfully juggles two sports.
The irony is that Stephen Kelly's dual exertions are with the Shannon rugby team, a sport whose popularity locally is so massive that many believe it militates against Limerick winning a football All-Ireland again.
Yet, Kelly believes his oval ball exploits actually help him as a GAA player.
"The (inter-county) training ban before Christmas now is frustrating a lot of people -- players and managers alike -- and the rugby certainly keeps me ticking over through the winter," Kelly says.
"The season with Shannon is October to April and the football season doesn't really start until February, so it is very manageable. This year there was only one league game, on a Saturday, when they clashed."
Kelly makes juggling both sound simple and is modest about his achievements in rugby. He started locally in his native Newcastlewest before he progressed to playing All-Ireland League rugby, first with Thomond in 2004 and with Shannon since 2006.
But when Shannon reached the AIL Division 1 final in 2009, the dual star winger was their joint-top try scorer (six) and a key man in their dramatic defeat of Clontarf.
Shannon were also in a relegation battle this season, but survived, unlike the Limerick footballers who had a bad run and took the drop to Division 4 of the Allianz League.
But Kelly, a Tralee-based Garda, believes today's fourth-round qualifier against Wexford offers the Shannonsiders one of their best chances ever to reach an All-Ireland quarter-final.
This time last year they came up against Cork and only went down after extra-time.
They also made the fourth round in 2009 and were extremely unlucky to get knocked out by Meath up in Portlaoise.
Wexford offer a different prospect. Yes, they gave Dublin a serious rattle in the Leinster final and proved that their magnificent 2008 season was no one-hit wonder.
But Limerick know them better than most and beat them in the last round of the league this year.
Horan noted this week that for the first time, in Limerick's fifth fourth-round appearance, they are not coming into the game as beaten Munster finalists, as was the case in 2003, '04, '09 and 2010.
"The disappointment of losing provincial finals has weighed heavily on them," Horan said.
Kelly echos that sentiment.
"This time it is Wexford who are coming off a provincial final loss and we will go into this with absolutely no fear."