Clare’s 53rd hurling All Star award was also arguably its most inevitable as Tony Kelly’s scintillating 2020 championship performances ensured his inclusion on the team of the year for the 50th anniversary of the prestigious PWC GAA/GPA All Stars.
Described as ‘a once-in-a-generation player’ by Brian Lohan after a record 17 point haul against eventual All-Ireland champions Limerick in October, it was Kelly’s first All Star nod since sweeping the board in 2013 with an All Star, Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards following Clare’s All-Ireland success. A second gong that saw the Ballyea talisman join his current manager in an eminent band of only 15 Clare players who have been honoured with multiple All Stars.
“It’s a privilege to be named alongside the great Clare hurlers that have won All-Stars of the past.” Kelly acknowledged exclusively to The Clare Echo this week. “And maybe it’s something that you can only truly reflect upon and appreciate after you’re finished playing when you can look back and say that you won one of those alongside the likes of Brian Lohan, Seanie McMahon, Colin Lynch, Jamesie O’Connor and all those greats.”
Firing an average of 12 points per game, Kelly was prolific throughout Clare’s nine match National League and Championship run with a total of 1-104 including 1-53 in four championship outings that helped the Banner County reach the last six along with contesting a first National Hurling League Final in four years.
“At the end of the year, it’s always pleasing to pick up an individual award if you haven’t managed to win the major honours of a Munster Championship or All-Ireland with the county. Look, it’s not something that you set your stall out at the start of the year to do but it’s a nice touch at the end of a year or in this case, the start of a new year.”
Amidst an unprecedented, truncated season of adjustment and restrictions due to COVID-19, it was Kelly’s eagerness and insatiable appetite to get back on the field following the first lockdown that admittedly aided his most devastating trail of destruction on Clare’s series of opponents.
“With the lockdowns and restrictions for everyone, you went through a few months of training on your own. And not having a hurley in your hand as much, it was more so to try and keep fit over the first lockdown and then once you got back with the club and county, you definitely had that hunger to get back hurling. And personally, the first day out against Limerick, it kind of went very well for me and from that then, you get a bit of confidence every day you go out. It just kind of blossomed from there really more than anything.”
With the All-Ireland Senior Championship switching to knock-out, Kelly and Co’s survival instincts surged to the fore before being eventually halted by Waterford at the quarter-final stage, not helped by an early ankle injury for Clare’s elusive top-scorer.
“It’s always frustrating to pick up any kind of injury and it hampered me a small bit but I wouldn’t put it down as the reason that Clare lost on the day. We had our chances and we probably didn’t perform to the level we had the week before against Wexford which was disappointing from a team point of view. That’s just something we’re going to have to address around Mid-April hopefully and kick on because there were a lot of positives to take out of the year considering that we were down a few bodies and we blooded a good few new players as well.
“We can’t wait to get back hurling again, The break has given us the opportunity to clear up a few injuries, the likes of John [Conlon] is back fully fit and there’s a couple more fresh faces around the squad as well with a few more promising young players coming in to give the panel a boost. Every year you go back with that eagerness to build on the year before and apply the learnings from it. Look, it’s great to be able to wipe the slate clean in a way and start back fresh again in 2021. And we’ll just have to see where the year takes us.”