Galway skipper Kelly hoping family fortunes favour the Tribe in All-Ireland final

9/7/2022  Galways      Sean Kelly      in action with  Derrys  Niall Loughlin with  Paul Cassidy      in Saturdays  All Ireland Football Semi Final at Croke Park   Picture  Seamus Loughran.
9/7/2022 Galways Sean Kelly in action with Derrys Niall Loughlin with Paul Cassidy in Saturdays All Ireland Football Semi Final at Croke Park Picture Seamus Loughran.

AS Galway captain Seán Kelly jokes ahead of the final, Sunday’s All-Ireland final will be a real “family affair” for his crew.

Kelly has two brothers on the panel in Paul, an attack-minded substitute with enormous underage pedigree. And then there’s Eoghan, drafted into this year’s panel on the back of an encouraging and triumphant Sigerson Cup campaign that culminated with his selection in the halfback line alongside his sibling and current inter-county skipper Seán on the competition’s own version of the Allstars.

The three Kellys are the sons of the late great Padraig ‘Dandy’ Kelly, five-time Connacht Senior Football Championship winner during the 1980s, who sadly passed away in November 2001, the same year as Galway’s last Sam Maguire success.

For the Kellys, many of their skills were honed on their own lawn in Moycullen, competing, tussling and fighting against each other like only brothers can.

“A lot of it ended it tears as well,” Seán said with a smile. “There were some good games and tough hits as well. It’s something we’ve been playing out on our pitch since I was aged three or four.

“There’s a good buzz in the house. Eoghan was brought in [to the panel] this year and Paul’s been around the last couple of years. It’s a huge honour for our family and I’m delighted to have them as part of the panel. We try to stay away from a few of them [the rest of the family] because they’re a bit wild [laughs]. Obviously, there is great excitement there and it’s a huge honour for them as well. They’re probably buzzing for us.”

Despite the rich family history on the Gaelic football field, the Kelly clan were never pigeonholed into just one sport.

Seán was part of Moycullen’s Basketball Ireland’s U-20 National Cup victory in early 2015 at just 17 while Paul has played underage for Ireland and captained his country at the 2019 U-18 European Championships.

Eoghan, after completing his Leaving Cert, headed for the United States to a prep school in Connecticut on a basketball scholarship and had a standout year. After surveying his options at the time, he continued to follow his dream and accepted an offer from a D3 basketball school near Chicago, Lake Forest College, back in 2017 but has since returned to Ireland.

Certainly, Seán is of the opinion that young people should play as many sports as possible to allow them to develop into more well-rounded athletes and players.

“A lot of sports intertwine,” said the 25-year-old. “With basketball we get great benefits from retreats, man and ball denial, and a lot of other small things that you can use in every sport. Boxing out is another one; there are a lot of different terms. It does intertwine and it’s great to play numerous sports.”

Though he is glad of his time on the court, Kelly’s first love remains football. To such a degree that he has taken up the role of coaching officer with Galway GAA while he completes his third-level education.

“It’s something I love and it’s something I really enjoy doing. I’m going around to all the camps at the moment and getting ready for academies. You just see the great smiles on the kids’ faces and you have a great buzz with them as well. Whatever I can do to encourage the youth is great.

“There are some great young players coming through. You can see how their game develops – with young players now, six- or seven-year-olds, practising both feet and everything. It’s definitely something you encourage.”

Kelly’s adaptability is a tremendous quality to possess as a player. When he made the breakthrough at inter-county level under Kevin Walsh, he lined out as a hard-working wing-forward with a knack for bagging a goal.

Midfield was where many maroon supporters felt he could perhaps get the most of both his significant attacking attributes – which include devastating bursts forward - with his defensive qualities.

However, following the serious knee injury to Seán Mulkerrin, Padraic Joyce opted to install Kelly as the man to mind the house on the edge of the square and his skipper has rewarded his manager with some assured performances and is very much a live candidate for an All-Star.

Kelly also played a key role in NUI Galway’s Sigerson Cup victory this year and notably was on song when the college overcame a David Clifford-led UL side in a wet and windy decider played in Carlow last February.

Though Clifford, Seán O’Shea and co are a daunting task for any backline, Kelly credits his manager for breeding confidence into the group, no matter what challenge awaits them.

“Since Padraic came in, he’s instilled that belief in us that we should be competing here at the business end, facing the likes of Clifford and O’Shea. We’ve as good of players on our panel – between Shane [Walsh], Damo [Comer] and other numerous lads there who we can test ourselves against every day in training. It’s something we look forward to.”

Like most inter-county players ahead of an All-Ireland final, he is understandably coy in his media comments on what it would mean to climb the Hogan Stand steps on Sunday and raise the Sam Maguire Cup aloft. Though he does allow himself to drift for just a split second when the question is put to him before quickly shaking it off.

“As a young lad, it would be something I’ve dreamed of, but I try not to let it affect me now because you don’t want to get caught up in everything. We do have that belief and confidence in ourselves that we can do it and it’s certainly something we believe we can do.”