Kelly: Hunger in Clare camp bodes well for title defence
Hurler of the Year Tony Kelly landed 11 frees against Galway in Ennis, but he was happy to stand aside and let sub Colin Ryan convert the late effort that grabbed a draw and secured Clare top spot in the Division 1A table.
Kelly was happy to deputise for Ryan as chief free-taker against the Tribesmen but has no desire to take over the dead-ball duties on a permanent basis.
"He is the boss around them, I was only filling in," said the Ballyea man, who has been one of the main beneficiaries from Davy Fitzgerald's policy of resting players at critical times throughout this league.
Kelly said that Ryan's steady hand over that last free underlined why he is one of the best in the business.
"Once he is on the field, he is the free-taker. He is the No 1, and there is no better man to stand over a free to level a game or get a score."
Kelly acknowledges that winning the All-Ireland has empowered the Banner to get results like Sunday's, even when the odds are against them, and he questioned whether they could have drawn in the same circumstances, down to 14 men, 12 months ago.
"This year we have gained a bit of experience. Last year we were so young but the experience of winning the All-Ireland last year stood to us," he said.
"We didn't panic when we went down to 14 men so between that experience and that fighting spirit, we clawed our way back out of it."
Kelly said that the attitude of the Clare players since the league began has been perfect.
"It was there from the lads that got their chance who didn't get a chance to play in previous rounds. They are fighting for their place for the year ahead, as is everyone else," he said.
"That shows the hunger in the camp of everyone wanting to get on the starting 15, so it all bodes well."
Meanwhile, manager Davy Fitzgerald said he would "love" to see change in the league format with an expanded number of teams in the future.
He acknowledged that some people like the current format but the "risk" attached to changing team selection from week to week is very significant.
"I just prefer more teams in the league. I really believe there should be eight or 10 teams in it. We have it for another year or two anyway, but I would love to see it change," he said.
"If we had another two games you could give fellas more games and have a semi-final and final with two coming up and two coming down," he said.
"That way the other teams who are giving out wouldn't be giving out because they'd be coming up if they are good enough to qualify."