Peter Kelly has learned the hard way the Dublin can’t get ahead of themselves
They watched last year’s Leinster final in the pub but the build-up this time has been ideal
“That was literally the turning point for me,” he says. “That day was the one where I realised I could cut it as an intercounty player. It was that simple. Up to then, I wasn’t sure at all. That was the second match of the league that year and the previous week we had played Waterford down in Walsh Park.
“And I was shite. I was taken off. I played wing-forward that game as well and I was gone by half-time. And I just came away thinking, ‘That’s my chance gone now for the league.’ But Daly started me again the following week against Tipp and I went out that day drumming it into myself that this was my last chance. Make or break, like. And it went well for me that day and I’ve never looked back since. That was down to him.
“So that was the first step. I proved to myself that I had what it took to make it when it really mattered. And I knew the things I had to improve on. But even though I knew them before that day as well, now I was working towards something I knew I could reach. Rather than working towards something that I was afraid was out of my reach.”
He played that whole championship in the half-forward line but by 2011, Daly had him moved back. In the beginning, it was a fire-fighting measure. He went to centre-back to cover for Joey Boland and Stephen Hiney and then when Tomás Brady was left in a heap six minutes into the Leinster semi-final against Galway – incredibly, yet another cruciate – it was Kelly who got the job of marking Joe Canning.
Canning had just stuck Galway’s first goal away and Kelly had never played full-back in his life. Yet he stood tall and caught the first two balls that came his way. By the end of the year, he’d kept reasonable tabs on not just Canning but Kevin Downes and Lar Corbett as well and it was really only the four goals that Kilkenny whipped past them in the Leinster final that kept him from an All Star. He hasn’t moved from in front of the goals since.
It’s no stretch to say that Kelly has been their best player through the four games so far this summer. He’d have been man of the Match in the first Wexford game only for Jack Guiney’s late equaliser and when the Dublin forwards were taking their time finding their range in the replay, he it was who galloped forward to show how it was done before half-time.