There can’t have been too many cooler customers in the aftermath of Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final than man of the match Eoin Kelly, who has now scored a remarkable 6-34 in four Championship games.
“It’s some feeling,” said the Passage East clubman, while sipping a bottle of water.
“We’ve been trying for so long now. I don’t think it’ll sink in ‘til tomorrow. The one thing is, I just hope it doesn’t bypass us.
Kelly continued: “We’re in the final and we haven’t been there for so long, but there’s no point being in the final and just making up the numbers. We have to get back to training, work hard again and put the heads down again.”
He modestly reflected on his 56th minute goal, when he outstretched Brendan Cummins to steer the ball into the Davin Stand net.
“Luckily enough it went in. You need a bit of luck and I suppose we haven’t had much of it the last couple of years. But you earn your own luck. The training we’ve been doing over the past 12 weeks has been great – there’s big belief in that camp, everyone playing for each other.”
And that sense of togetherness, of shared belief, of a collective drive to climb hurling’s Everest was something Eoin Kelly reflected on.
“In the camp at the moment there are no individuals in there,” he said. “Everyone’s on this team and everyone helps each other, whether it’s a young lad or an old lad, everyone helps each other. Whoever needs a lift, there’s someone there beside you to give it.
“Everyone is fighting for each other, from one to 36, backroom staff, everyone who helps out. We’re getting results. But there’s no point in going to the big show if you don’t turn up.”
His individual contribution to the Waterford cause has won Kelly deserved praise, but Sunday, as he reminded us, was all about the team.
“The boys are winning the frees. It’s easy enough to score them. I wasn’t really happy with my first half performance, a couple of easy shots I should have put over that I didn’t.
“But the lads have been great all year – especially John and Eoin either side of me winning lots of frees. But everyone is playing well at the moment.
“I don’t know if it’s experience or just hard work – but it’s been just a hell of a lot of effort and we just worked really hard, right up to the 73rd, 74th minute. And luckily enough we just came out the right side of it today.”
The hard work ethic will be drummed into every panellist between now and September 7th and all the motivation Waterford need is to look across the Suir in the defending champions’ direction.
“You look at Kilkenny last week and they were unbelievable – their blocking down and their harassing of the Cork backs – they’re our lynchpins I suppose and we have to look up to them. We have to keep up the hard work, with the forwards helping the backs out.”
Does it now seem that the players’ heave against Justin McCarthy after the defeat to Clare appear to be justified?
“It does, it looks like it does,” said Kelly. “We didn’t like doing what we done. Justin is a nice man, a good hurling man and no-one liked doing what we done. We thought we were missing that little something that we didn’t know we were going to get out of Justin.
“We felt that we needed something to get to an All-Ireland. There’s lads in there in their 30s who’ve never played in an All-Ireland and all they want to do is play in an All-Ireland and we just felt we needed something a little different to get there.”
So what has made the difference?
“It’s hard to put a finger on it. I suppose it’s just hard work from one to 36 day in day out, on and off the field, then training, in our diets, everything like that.
“We weren’t doing that for the last couple of years and we’re working harder now than ever before on the field. All the little things help to make the big picture.”
A press packer noted that having beaten Kilkenny in a national final, that this might give Waterford an additional edge come the big day.
“Yeah, but they’ve 30 All-Irelands,” said a deadpan Eoin Kelly as he made for a hot shower.
Top scorer in the Championship, as well as a certainty for the hurler of the year shortlist, you know in a heartbeat that Kelly would swap both for a Celtic Cross on the first Sunday in September. And he’ll do all he can to make that dream come true against Kilkenny.