You cannot buy experience, and it is one of the most valuable commodities a team can have going into an All-Ireland final, and St James’ captain on Saturday evening is a man with oodles of it.
Mark Kelly has been around the block in football terms and he has tasted both victory and defeat many times with colleges, club and county football over the past 20 years.
He would dearly love to get the opportunity to lead his teammates, management team, and club officers up the steps of the Hogan Stand next Saturday night around 8.40pm as All-Ireland champions.
“We have worked hard all year to be where we are this weekend, and we rode our luck a few days to get this far, especially in Galway.
“We drew with Carna Caiseal twice in the county semi-final and it took us all our time to beat them the third day. In the county final there was only a kick of the ball between ourselves and Spideal, and the All-Ireland semi-final went to extra time, so we know what it is like to come out on the right side of really tight scrapes.”
Kelly has seen youngsters Paul Conroy, Johnny Duane, Alan Deacy and Eoin Concannon come of age in the past 18 months.
“We lost the county final to Leitir Mór in 2009 and from a maturing point of view it may have been a good thing. The younger lads have come on in leaps and bounds in the past year and being involved with the county seniors and u-21s has helped their development too. Lads like Paul [Conroy] and Eoin [Concannon] have been immense for us all year and we will need them to be at the top of their game this Saturday too.”
Kelly is keen to stress the unity within the panel and the fact that there are 30 to 35 players who will take immense credit if the club pulls out a victory this weekend.
“We have a strong panel and have top quality players such as Michael McCormack and Sean Boyle who have been regulars for years chomping for game time. Barry Dooney is away with work a lot and that is probably the only reason he is not in the starting 15 all the time. Rory McCann would be pushing hard for a starting spot too only for work commitments abroad, and some of the younger lads, Aaron Connolly and Eoghan O’Regan, are improving all the time.”
Kelly is under no illusions about the task he and his side face, but as a player who is on the wrong side of 35, he is ardent to make the most of the chance.
“Everyone in the club is hoping for success and we are going to give it our absolute best shot. We are going to Dublin to win, and with a bit of luck on our side, that’s what we’ll do.”