Ballincollig veteran Kelly predicts an open SFC championship

Ballincollig veteran Kelly predicts an open SFC championship
Ballincollig's Paddy Kelly and Robbie Kiely of Carbery Rangers. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

John Horgan 

GAA

HAVING an inter-county star now fully concentrated on club matters only is a considerable boost to the club involved.

In this case, the player in question is Paddy Kelly from Ballincollig, one of the county’s most gifted footballers of recent times before he announced his retirement from the inter-county scene a couple of months ago.

He has been there and done that with both club and county, an All-Ireland medal winner in 2010 and a star of Ballincollig’s county triumph in 2014.

His days in the red of Cork are now done and dusted but the expectation is that Ballincollig will continue to challenge at the top end of the championship for some time.

The decision to call time on his Cork career cannot have been easy but it sits easily with him now as he embarks on another SFC campaign with the club.

“It’s far less time consuming now being involved with the club only. I am enjoying it now, enjoying getting back in fully with the lads in Ballincollig.

“I thought I might miss the inter-county involvement but no, not in the slightest, I am very comfortable where I am at now and the decision that I took.

“Obviously, I’d still try to follow the team but I don’t get to the game as much, you’d see newspapers and snippets and they have had a mixed league campaign but it’s over for me now in that regard.”

It’s full steam ahead now with Ballincollig and an opening championship assignment against St Finbarr’s.

“We have the ‘Barrs first, they’d be rightly considered as one of the better teams so that will be a tough challenge for us.

“It’s vital for a dual club like ourselves to win the first round because if you don’t you are immediately under pressure.

“We’d have rivalry with the ‘Barrs over the past couple of years, they have good, young players coming through so they are not that far away from making a breakthrough.

Having won the club’s first SFC title in 2014, Ballincollig’s star has risen considerably and there is a deep resolve to try and emulate that achievement again.

“The experience of the past few years is standing to us. Our squad is very settled and there’s a good crop of younger guys coming in as well.

“We’d be regarded as one of the top five or six clubs but it’s very early days yet and you would not be looking too far ahead.

“We’d be happy enough with the way things are going but the ‘Barrs will be a big test of where we are actually at.”

The city club are without a title now since 1985 and the playing field in more recent times have levelled up considerably with a few first-time winners, Kelly acknowledges that it’s a more competitive championship.

“Definitely, you’d have to say that there are five or six club teams now who’d have a decent chance of winning it.

“Any one of the divisions could throw something together too, so it is very competitive and more even than it was in the past.

“Maybe the standard when it comes to the provincial and national stage is not as high with Carbery Rangers losing to the Waterford champions last season.

“But it remains a very good Cork championship with up to 10 teams that could rattle it.

“It’s still too early of course and you’ll need time to see how things are starting to shape up.”

Back to the ‘Barrs and, arguably, the clash of the early rounds, the former Cork star has a good idea of what lies ahead.

“They won last year’s U21 county, they lost to Nemo in the quarter-final of the senior county and, by all accounts, they should have beaten them.

“They are going to be competitive and in our recent meetings there has hardly been anything in it, just a point or two.”

Kelly acknowledges too that the levels of preparation for a club player are much different to what they once might have been.

“Definitely, playing senior club football now requires a lot more commitment. Club players don’t have the type of facilities and stuff available as the inter-county lads have, gear wise and training gear but they have become just as dedicated.

“They mind themselves all year round, it’s gone that way. The levels of preparation are very high now but the players want that and they enjoy that too.

“It is less intense than the intercounty scene, you have weekends off whereas on the intercounty front that does not happen until you are knocked out.”

Similar to a lot of other clubs, there is the issue of the dual player and that requires good, strong management from both sides.

“There’s probably 10 to 14 or more lads here tipping around in both codes here. There’s a good crossover but there’s a good relationship between the two sets of management teams and things are running fairly smoothly so far.

“You have to have that working relationship and schedule otherwise it just won’t work for either.”

It’s a changed landscape now for the All-Ireland star of 2010 but he is contented with his lot and looking ahead with a fair degree of optimism to the campaign that lies ahead.

“Definitely, I made my decision about Cork, there’s no going back on that. I am injury free now and I think that I have missed just one training session since January.

“It’s very enjoyable now, there’s less pressure and we are looking forward to the Barrs match.

“We still have most of the players from 2014, JP Murphy and Steve O’Donoghue are travelling, Johnny Miskella is still playing great for us and there’s a good enough crop of younger guys coming in.

“We lost out last season to Carbery Rangers in the final so we were not that far off it and you’d be hopeful again of doing well.

“As I said, it’s become a more open championship and you just take it on from the start and see where it gets you.”

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