GAA Football

Ultan Kelm targets big year with Fermanagh after frustrating 2020

A niggling hip injury forced Ultan Kelm out of action for club and county following the resumption of GAA activity last summer. Picture by Donnie Phair.
Neil Loughran

FERMANAGH star Ultan Kelm can’t wait to get back firing on all cylinders after a frustrating end to 2020 that saw him play no part for club or county following the GAA’s resumption last summer.

A troublesome hip injury left him on the sidelines as Fermanagh slipped through the Division Two trapdoor before bowing out of the Ulster Championship to Down.

The management of that injury provided a “big learning curve”, admits the versatile Erne Gaels ace, who has emerged as one of the key men in Ryan McMenamin’s Fermanagh side.

Having swapped his student digs in Belfast for home and regular sessions in the garage gym, Kelm is now flying fit and ready to pull on the green jersey – although when that will be is anyone’s guess at present as no collective training will be permitted until Easter at the earliest.

“Ah, it wasn’t even that serious of an injury, it just wasn’t managed that well by myself,” says the 21-year-old, who is in the second year of a four year Ulster University degree in architectural engineering.

“I had it before the first lockdown then got right but I didn’t manage it that well again. It’s very annoying. I know now looking back… it’s frustrating that way, a few small changes and I probably would have been fit to play. Obviously being in pain week in, week out, you’re thinking playing is doing more damage than it actually is.

“It was a big learning curve for me, I was very naïve wanting to play every game and do every training session. When you’re my age you don’t want to miss anything.

“Over a period of time it just worsened so I took a break, and then when football resumed last year I’d very little conditioning under me. It would’ve been a big rush to get me back in so we decided that instead of having me at 60 per cent last year and maybe coming back at 80 per cent in 2021, to leave it and have me coming back 100 per cent fit this year.

“I’ve just been building my fitness, following the programme we’ve been given and thankfully I’ve the injury nipped in the bud.”

The uncertainty surrounding when counties can return to training, and dates for the League, has been a source of frustration for most GAA players in recent months – though that extra time could prove invaluable for Kelm.

Despite the disappointment of last year, and the loss of experienced figures such as Tomas Corrigan and the Jones brothers, Ryan and Conal, he sees plenty to build on for the campaign ahead - while having McMenamin still in place as manager is also a boost for the returning ace.

“I was definitely glad to see Ricey staying on.

“Looking back on last year, we knew ourselves we weren’t at the level to be winning games in Division Two consistently. We weren’t far away in any of those games so we’ve a lot of learnings to take away, there’s a lot of young players coming through and Ricey’s been with most of us for a right few years.

“You want to try and build on what we already have.”

And, for the foreseeable future at least, Kelm will be staying on these shores as his Aussie Rules dreams remain up in the air.

His power, pace and athleticism caught the eye of Aussie scouts during an AFL combine in December 2019 and, along with Mayo pair Oisin Mullin and Frank Irwin, as well as Clare’s Cillian Rouine, Kelm had been due to travel to Australia last April to undergo trials.

The Covid-19 pandemic put paid to those plans, but Kelm is content to play the waiting game for now.

“We were hopeful coming to the end of last year because we thought things were going to be opening up, maybe to get out at the start of this year.

“It was around this time last year we were supposed to be going but it looks like we’re going to be in the same position this year again. We’ve kept in touch, obviously Australia’s almost back to normal again, but it’s more a case of waiting and seeing.

“It would be a massive opportunity... if I wasn’t given it at all you mightn’t worry but when you’re shown it and then it’s pulled away, it’s different.

“But then you have to keep things in perspective too. If it was a normal year it would be worse probably but when there’s so much uncertainty for everybody, it would be pretty selfish for me to be holding on to the like of that there.

“Hopefully something can still come of it down the line.”

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