FOR the past 60 years Billy Kelly has served his basketball club Neptune with distinction.
In that time he has worn every tee-shirt, from player, assistant coach, coach, stadium manager and committee member and still loves the club as much today as he did when he first joined as a young man.
Now 77, not only is Billy Kelly a great club man, he is an even better person, put simply, he is just one lovely man, who loves his family and his sport.
Billy grew up in Mount Farran in the Glen area with his siblings Jimmy, Ann, Joe, and was the son of late Bill and May.
The first time Billy hopped a first basketball was with his friends before he started his journey with Neptune.
“I grew up in Mount Farran where I played with the lads on the road. I then got a job in the Sunbeam and played with them in the inter-firm competitions with Jimmy O’Connell.
“Jimmy suggested to me one day that I should call to Barry’s Place for a few shots and meet the lads from Neptune.
“I arrived the following night looking forward to getting to play with the lads.
When I arrived I was handed a pick and shovel and told to dig out a garden so they could add another basket.
“Welcome to Neptune,” he remembers with a broad smile on his face.
“I then went on to play there with the O’Donoughue brothers, Jim and Leo, Dave O’Leary, Mick Finn, and a very young Dave Cody.
“I played my first season on the Junior team under Donal O’Donoughue, winning the league.
“I was then drafted onto the senior team, and got to play with Tom Crowley, Noel Crowley, Jimmy O’Connell and Mick Finn who were all excellent players.
“However, I would have to say Jimmy was one of the toughest players I played with, and against, as he was a great man to have in your corner when the going got tough.
“I played senior basketball for 10 years before I dropped down Junior to finish my playing career.
“My last game was when we played in the Killorglin Tournament where I ended up getting the MVP award of the tournament.
To my surprise, I received 200 cigarettes as my prize which my teammates thought was hilarious as I never smoked in my life.
”I also had the pleasure to captain the Cork team to two All-Ireland’s with some of my club teammates, and also got to play with Mossy Nolan, Teddy O’Leary, Seanie Murphy, and the great Noel McCarthy in 1968-'69 seasons.”
Billy has coached at every level with Neptune, however, with all his success with adult’s it was coaching at underage level is where he got the most enjoyment as he took a lot of pride of watching the youngers reaching their potential.
“I have coached at all levels with the club, and had some great success winning the Intermediate All-Ireland with players like the late Tony Cronelley, the Lucey brothers Pat and John, and youngers at the time, Don O’Sullivan and John 'Dinnybobs' McCarthy.
“However, I got more enjoyment winning a local league or championship with the younger boys Malcolm Thompson, Declan Kelly, Paul Barrett, Ian Lucey and Denis Wallace to name a few.
”I also managed the Stadium in the early days, and one of my best memories was when Gerald Kennedy scored the shot from his own free-throw line against Killester to win the National League with two seconds remaining in the game.
“I actually missed the shot as I was opening the exit doors for the supporters, when I heard a unmerciful roar, and ran in to see everyone dancing on the floor.”
Billy has filled every position on the Committee from President, Chairman, Treasurer, and Secretary in his time in the club.
“I filled a lot positions at committee level, but the greatest achievement for me was being involved with the committee that got the Stadium built.
“We had very hard-working people with Liam McGinn, Niall O’Riordan, Mick Finn, Jim O’Donoghue, Tim O’Brien, Jim Nugent, Dave Cody, Treasa O’Brien and Jackie Solan putting in hours of dedication to get the Stadium built.”
Billy is not the only basketball player in his family his three sons Paul, Alan, and Glenn all followed in his footsteps, and now his grandson Jake is also making a big name on the hardwood.
“I must say the best decision of my life was marrying my wife Nuala, and we were blessed with six wonderful children, Paul, Shirley, Alan, Glenn, William, and Vivian.
“The boys Paul, Alan, Glenn all played basketball with Neptune, however, Paul and Alan got to play together on the National League team and won multiple trophies with Bugerland.
“One of my greatest memories was before one cup final we were all sitting around the table having our breakfast when Paul said something to Alan to wind him up.
“He fell for it hook line and sinker, and Nuala had to spend the morning separating them.
“However, we won the cup, and as Paul and Alan were getting their medals, I turned to Nuala and said to her it’s you deserved those medals for putting up with them all morning!"
Billy now spends his time during lockdown walking with Nuala, but misses his Saturdays at the Parochial Hall, watching the honesty, and innocence of the young kids playing basketball for their clubs.