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Kelly sees game from new perspective

by GAVIN CUMMISKEY was published in the Irish Times on Wednesday the 10th of September 2008

JOACHIM KELLY is the manager of the Offaly junior camogie team this year, and on Sunday he brings his side to Croke Park for the junior final (12.0) against a more fancied Clare team, who have contested the two previous finals. Galway and Cork will battle it out in the senior final at 4.0.

Kelly is one of the great Offaly hurlers and this Sunday his daughter Aoife runs out on the same field where her father won two All-Irelands in the 1980s.

"I suppose my daughter was on the team and a few of her friends asked would I give them a year so . . . they were craving me! . . . I really didn't want to, to be honest with you, but I got involved. Aoife is playing about three, four years.

"So I put a management team together. Mark Corrigan, you know him (an All Star with two All-Irelands and eight Leinster championship medals) who also has a daughter named Aoife on the panel), Ger Fogarty, a brother of Aidan Fogarty, and then Catherine Byrne. You have to have the lady element in it."

Does he remember his last game here as a player? How could he or any Offaly supporter forget it. Like many Offaly days in recent times, it is drenched in the regret of what might have been.

"The last time I played here was in the Leinster semi-final against Kilkenny in '93. I finished my last 10 minutes on DJ."

What did he get off you?

"DJ scored nothing because I'll tell you what I did," he says grabbing the lower part of my t-shirt. He's a good friend of mine, right? And I held him like that! I said 'DJ, I'm f***ed but you are not getting away for the next 10 minutes'. I was centre back that day. We were beaten by a goal late on. They got a penalty and DJ scored it."

In an effort to improve skill levels, Kelly increased his panel from 25 to 30 a few weeks back with more focus on internal matches than fitness.

One of the new recruits was 13-year-old Debbie Flynn.

"That's right. We only brought her in there in the last six weeks. Her sister Shauna is on the panel as well, she is from Kilcormac. She has great pace, great skill. Maybe a bit young to bring in at Croke Park but we'll see."

The obvious challenge for such a no-nonsense individual is how he curbs his ebullient personality when dealing with the fairer sex. He anticipated such a challenge.

"Well, I suppose you can't eff and blind. They are a bit different than fellas. With the fellas you can really get stuck into them. You have to be a bit more, I suppose, a step back with the girls. You have to treat them well. You have to praise them the whole time. I was told!"

Afterwards Kelly wonders aloud what dressingroom his team will use. Before any concerns can be voiced camogie association president Liz Howard intervenes. The under-21 men will emerge from beneath the Cusack stand.

"This is our day Joachim, don't forget," says Howard. "For one day only the hurlers are just visiting. And there will be no rain either!"

To match last year's 34,000 turnout, when Wexford upset the odds to defeat Cork, would be a respectable return for camogie's flagship event. The arrival of the Kilkenny and Tipperary under-21 hurlers on the undercard is certainly no harm.

The only sour note is the Cork County Board's decision to stage their county championship semi-final between Glen Rovers and Sarsfields at the same time as the senior camogie final - a clash that is sure to curtail numbers travelling from the Rebel County.

"Both games are on at 4pm," said Cork manager Denise Cronin, ironically a member of Glen Rovers. "I suppose we can just go to the county board to see if they can facilitate people. I know there are a lot of people who want to come up and watch the game. It's just unfortunate."

A remodelled Cork side are attempting to reassert their dominance of the sport, after last year's final upset, but Sunday's refreshing pairing with Galway sees the Munster side arrive as marginal underdogs. Galway beat them in the round-robin section of the championship.


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