THE DUBLIN No 3 jersey may have come to Peter Kelly in trying circumstances, but he isn’t just going to hand it back to Tomas Brady without a fight.
The Lucan Sarsfields dynamo had never played at full-back until six minutes and 45 seconds into last year’s Leinstersemi-final against Galway. Brady lay crumpled on the ground, while Joe Canning had a clenched fist in the air and Dublin goalkeeper Gary Maguire was picking the ball out of the back of the net.
The Na Fianna clubman had done his cruciate and would miss the rest of the season, the league champions were already without Joey Boland and Stephen Hiney and Anthony Daly turned to Kelly (right) to go where had never gone before — to the edge of the square.
As if learning the position on the hoof wasn’t enough, he also had to mark the game’s marquee full-forward, fresh from a stunning goal. Most players would baulk at less, but Kelly thrived.
He went on to star in the position all season and, after initially struggling on Lar Corbett in the All-Ireland semi-final, he recovered to keep the Tipperary legend quiet in the second half. His performances led to an All Star nomination, but it was the initial display versus Canning that got him going.
“It was sink or swim,” he admitted. “When Tomo got injured they had no one to play there, so they asked me to go back and, since then, I’ve had to adapt.
“He was marking Canning when he got injured, so I went in. I didn’t have time to get used to the position. Luckily enough, I won the first two balls off him and that gave me confidence and knocked him a small bit because he had just scored a goal.
“It was never tried in training and it wasn’t discussed beforehand — you wouldn’t really plan for a fella getting injured — it was just one of these things, a spur of the moment thing and we tried it and it worked.
“If I had been thinking about it and saying: ‘Jesus, I’m marking Joe Canning’, but I just took the bull by the horns and went for it.
“I don’t argue with where you’re put, if you’re given a jersey you play there and I’m happy at No 3 now, I’ve made it my own.
“I enjoy playing full-back, it isn’t like it used to be — all mullocking — there is still a lot of hurling you can do from full-back, you can get up the field and maybe get a score, so I have made it my own and I enjoy it.”
Now, Brady has returned with the rest of Dublin’s long-term injury victims as they warm up for their championship opener against Laois in Tullamore on Saturday night.
Like any good squad man, he’ll play where he’s picked, but he reckons that the injured players are coming into a Dubs squad that is far more competitive than the one they left.
The league may not have gone to plan, but it has opened doors and given experience to a host of young pretenders.
“Competition is what you want, especially with a player like Tomas, because you know how good he is and he will be pushing you the whole way,” Kelly said.
“If he’s not pushing me, you know he will be pushing someone else. Having him and Stephen Hiney back, they are both top class players and they won’t want to be on the bench after missing a year, so we’re all on our toes.
“I’m sure Daly will be having a tough time picking the team, but that is what you want come summer.
“Without all of the injuries, maybe you wouldn’t have had the chance to see Danny Sutcliffe for the whole league or things like that.
“The returning injured players know that they have a job to get back into the team.”
– Ruaidhri O’Connor – Irish Independent