Pat Kelly: 'You dream as a young fella of playing in finals – I'm getting to do it twice'
On duty with the Munster inter-provincial hurling squad earlier this year, Pa Kelly got a sense for how hard Anthony Nash can strike a ball. The Clare goalkeeper and his Cork counterpart were warming up before training when Kelly felt the whizz of a Nash missile flying by.
"Nine times out of 10 he was absolutely smashing the ball," said Kelly. "He doesn't miss. He strikes the ball so well it is ridiculous.
"He probably has a better shot than Joe (Canning) and that's a fair achievement because we all know the ability of Joe striking a ball.
"What's helping him as well is he is using the goalie bas and he has less chance of missing the ball."
One of the most intriguing sub-plots of the drawn All-Ireland final three weeks ago was how it developed into a tale of two goalkeepers.
Saves at either end from both men, the bravery of Kelly's charge to block down Nash's first 20-metre free, Nash's recovery to score one from the same distance in the second half, the penalty from Nash saved by Kelly's colleague and match saviour Domhnall O'Donovan, and Kelly's late loss of possession and concession of a line ball from which Cork should have locked down victory.
At the end the two men, members of the same union, embraced. What words did they exchange?
"I was saying I don't want to see him coming up taking '21s' the next day and we had a smile. That's all I said. I'd know him pretty well. We had a laugh at the end. Whatever happens on the field stays on the field in my view."
Close-range frees are something Kelly has not yet welcomed into his repertoire with Clare. He appreciates it's a much harder skill than it looks.
"I take them with the club. The last three I got. I got one in a league final, in a championship semi-final and the game against Waterford in 2012. The three of them were in the exact same spot in the corner of the 'D', and I don't think I hit the three of them properly.
"I wouldn't be bad. I hit the long-range frees for the club but it's a tough enough thing to do. It's grand when you get them in the middle of the goal. But when you are in the corner of the goal it's tough enough to score them at the best of times."
He appreciates his apprenticeship has been quite short. A squad member since 2008, he only had to wait four years behind Philip Brennan first, and then Donal Tuohy before being installed as No 1 on Davy Fitzgerald's watch, making his championship debut against Waterford in 2012.
Given that Fitzgerald noted in his own memoirs that he saw off 10 challengers to his position who came in as goalkeepers during the 17-year span that he was involved, Kelly can count himself fortunate.
Naturally Fitzgerald was an influence growing up.
"I think he was about the best," Kelly said. "He would have coached our club team (Inagh Kilnamona) and he would have had a big influence. I would have gone in watching training in the '90s when Ger Loughnane was over them."
Like Nash, who revealed before the drawn game that he has over 30 hurleys to choose from and will take up to nine on match day, Kelly admits he too is obsessive about equipment.
"I'd be awful too. I suppose I bring nine or 10 to matches. I learned my lesson when we played Galway in a challenge game last January in Clarecastle. The frost was really bad.
"I had five hurleys with me and before the game started I had cracked four of them and I was in an awful way. I said I was never going to get caught again. They were fresh hurleys and I obviously left them in my car.
"I would be meticulous. I grip all my hurleys the night before with new grips. There is a young fella at home, called Davy Fitz as well. He is 18 and fixes all my hurleys and is very good to me. If I brought up a hurley at 2.0 on a Saturday and had a game on the Sunday he would have it ready for me. I would be meticulous when it comes to things like that.
"At home I'd say I have up on 50 hurleys, easily. But lads would be coming to the house robbing them, telling my mother 'I'm just taking a lend of this hurley' and I'd never see it again! But these things happen."
Kelly admitted to being "nervous" sweeping into Croke Park for the All-Ireland semi-final against Limerick – his first game there – but not for the final. In fact he enjoyed surveying the crowd for familiar faces on the way in.
"I was nervous before the Limerick game but not the last day," he said. "You dream as a young fella of playing these games in front of 80,000 people and I have a chance of doing that twice within three weeks so there is no point being nervous or caught up in it. I wasn't nervous or worried the last day."
The desire to screen himself away from his surroundings with an iPod doesn't appeal, while Fitzgerald has banned the use of mobile phones prior to matches too.
"In the dressing-room you have to get really focused but I would still be talking away. You see some lads really focused; some lads have iPod," he said.
"We are not allowed have our phones, Davy has that stamped out. You live for these days, you can't shut out everything, you have to take it in a small bit. You might spot some fella from home, the local village, a local character and have a smile at that."
The perfectionist in him knows that he didn't tick every box the last day.
"I did okay in parts but I wasn't happy letting in three goals. As a goalkeeper you pride yourself on not conceding goals. I wasn't happy with the first one, it was very soft. To rub salt into the wounds Nash came up and buried a 20-metre free.
"These are things I am going to have to work on for the next day. Cork are going to run at us. They will think they can beat us by running at us and popping passes and overlaps and that is something the team has to work on and I have to work on my game."