20/03/02.For a brief period early yesterday morning, John Kelly will admit that he was in no state whatsoever to play for his country in a championship game.
It was a mental thing really rather than physical, and it came seconds after the team to play Scotland was announced to the squad in the Glenview Hotel. “They started at fifteen, Girvan Dempsey, then my name and after that I couldn’t tell you what was said. I was in a daze. Couldn’t believe it. It’s just fantastic. After that, everyone was coming up and congratulating me. There was nothing but best wishes. The first up was Tyrone Howe which says a lot about the guy.”
“It was great having the Munster lads around to share the moment. I know all the others fairly well but because of the Munster connection there was a certain familiarity which was nice.”
Having been on the bench for the Scotland game was there disappointment about not getting a run ? “Of course there was. ” He readily admits. ” You get to that stage, you’re on the bench and you realise that it may be the last time, this opportunity may never come around again. But I was delighted to be there, just to be part of the whole set-up. I also learned a lot in that week by just being involved in the senior international set up.”
And looking forward to the match next Saturday ? “Of course I’ll be nervous, I always am before games whether for Cork Con or Munster. But that’s normal for me, nothing new to have to deal with.”
A team player who is noted for his work ethic, Kelly elicits praise readily from his colleagues. ” He has played an integral role in Munster’s success and probably hasn’t been given the credit he deserves for that,” opines Denis Hickie, while David Wallace, suggests he is ” a very underrated player.”
His boss in Munster, the Ireland assistant coach Declan Kidney holds Kelly in high regard. “In many ways he has come the longer road to this stage. He only came into the Munster side when he was 23 and it’s great to see him getting there. It’s also great for those who have worked with him, Brian Hickey and Peter Melia included, but in fairness he has done most of it himself. He has been very consistent, he does a lot of the less atractive work in a game and has a great work rate. I’m delighted for him.”
Kelly can play wing or centre and that versatility ran in his favour. But there is a quiet effeciency about the way he plays and a steely determination that has paid off with his elevation to the highest level.