A WEEK AFTER TJ Reid shot 1-18 for Kilkenny, Tony Kelly clipped over 20 points on his return to the Clare team in yesterday’s win over Dublin.
It handed the Banner their second straight league win and gives them some momentum as the league nears its conclusion.
Perhaps Clare are not in the dire straights many thought. The put up 2-27 and 0-34 in away wins over Laois and Dublin respectively, following a game they dominated for long spells against Wexford before a second-half red card cost them dearly.
Kelly was in imperious form. He scored 16 placed balls and four from play. Of his tally, 0-8 arrived in the first-half, 0-12 in the second and he missed just three of his 23 shots at the posts all afternoon.
“What did TJ Reid get, 1-18 last week?” asked Clare boss Brian Lohan. “Each team has quality players that are well able to take the responsibility of scoring. We’re lucky enough that we have Tony”
Clare’s star man missed the win over Laois with a dead leg, but was back to his very best in Parnell Park.
It was an exceptional display from Kelly, who put over a handful of frees from inside his own half during the 70 minutes – including one from the Clare 45.
'That a boy Kelly!'
Tony Kelly with another masterclass point from distance!
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Mattie Kenny was unhappy with some of the frees awarded to the visitors, but felt the Dublin players didn’t help themselves with some of their tackling.
“I felt as the game was going on that we were giving away too many frees,” he said. “Tony Kelly was scoring from all sides so that’s something we’ve got to look at. Clare played really well tonight but our lads played really well also.
“I thought some of the frees were maybe of the bit softish nature. It’s something we’ve got to look at, that we’re a little bit more disciplined in the tackle.”
It follows the trend of big scoring tallies from free-takers, with Reid, Patrick Horgan, Jason Forde, Evan Niland and others responsible for the majority of their team’s scores.
The debate will continue on whether the sliotar should be made heavier, with hurlers now better conditioned and shooting off hurleys with a far bigger bas and shorter in length, which allows for a better strike.
Then there’s the debate over refereeing, the advantage rule, tackling with the spare hand and whether the physicality is being whistled out of the game.
But whatever about hurling’s ills, Kelly’s masterclass of shooting was glorious to watch.
The 2013 Hurler of the Year, who was nominated for the top prize again last year, played at centre-forward and his fingerprints were over most of Clare’s good play.
Any suggestions that Clare needed to add goals were rendered null and void by Kelly’s exceptional display of marksmanhip.
But aside from his frees, there were two scores from play in particular that summed up his class.
Early in the second-half, after a poor Paddy Smyth sideline cut in the corner, Kelly came away from a ruck involving three Dublin players with the ball in his hand. It was a ball he had no right to win.
He engineered enough space to have a pop at the posts from the sideline and sent over a sensational score.
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Shortly before the second water break, Kelly stood over a free on the opposite side of the field. Dublin expected the talisman to have a strike at the posts, but thinking on his feet, he spotted Aidan McCarthy unmarked nearby and played it short.
Kelly received the return on the run and fired over on the run from much closer to goal.
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Those two points summed up his work-rate, intelligence and fitness levels. He’s far from just a free-taker and makes this side tick from the middle third.
“The league this is year is kinda different, it’s more of a ramp up for championship,” Kelly told eir Sport after the game. “We probably didn’t get off to the greatest start in the league above in Antrim or, I suppose, against Wexford as well.
“But we’re pretty satisfied with our performance especially in the second-half. It was very good. We made a few mistakes in the first-half but the second-half it was very good.
“We’re just [happy with] the application all over the field. It’s a tough place to come, Parnell Park. We’re delighted with the game we knew we’d get, we did get and we’re looking forward to another good game next week which is a good lean-in into championship.”
They’ll conclude their league campaign against Kilkenny next week in Ennis, with the Munster quarter-final date with Waterford arriving two weeks later.
“You’re under pressure to win every game that you play,” remarked Lohan.
“While we’re happy enough to get the victory here, we’ve got a good test coming next Saturday in Cusack Park. Kilkenny are the benchmark. Leinster champions and such a good. It will be another great test for our lads.”
A league campaign that started with controversy and turbulence, now sees Clare finding some form and confidence at the right time.
Lohan was happy to draw a line under the Covid episode that transpired after the Wexford game last month.
“From our perspective, we had two guys identified as close contacts, both of them tested negative the first time. They served their 10 days isolation, they were tested a second time and tested negative as well.
“So they’re back in the squad and back working hard.”
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