Ballyea not feeling the pressure after county championship glory

The Clare forward helped guide his club to a maiden Clare SHC title last weekend at Cusack Park

Tony Kelly

Image: ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson 

Clare forward Tony Kelly described the 'overwhelming feeling of jubilation' following his side's maiden county title, as Ballyea edged Clonlara last weekend at Cusack Park.

The 22-year-old notched a late point to secure a first title in the club's history and explained that the success, while new to the team, isn't surprising.

"Underage within the county, there’s been an age group or two who have won, stretching from U14s all the way up as far as U21," he tells Newstalk.com.

"Out of that [U21] team, we make the majority of the senior team. We hadn’t really made the breakthrough at senior level until this year. I suppose in and around the county we would have been seen as a good young team coming up.

"Over the last two or three years, we would have stalled at the quarter-final stage, and we never got over that. I think that came this year when we had a bit more experience. We had Gary Brennan, who is very experienced, and there’s maybe maybe four or five others on the Clare senior hurling panel."

The historic victory came after a run of games which saw them overcome established teams in the county like Crusheen and Newmarket on Fergus. Kelly admitted that to get as far as they did came as a bit of a surprise.

"We hadn’t really thought about winning it until that final whistle went. When Clonlara got to the final, we all knew the challenge that was facing us, knowing the quality that they have. There was just an overwhelming feeling after it."

Tony Kelly leaps in celebration after the final whistle at Cusack Park. Ballyea ran out three point winners over Clonlara that afternoon in the final of the Clare SHC. Image: ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson 

The victory now moves them into the semi-final of the Munster club championship, where they meet a more formidable task in the shape of Tipperary's Thurles Sarsfields.

"It’s similar to the Clonlara game, when you look at their team on paper. You can pick county stars and All-Stars in nearly every line of the field.

"We’ll have to focus on them, but not get too caught up. We know we also have to focus on ourselves to try and get a similar, if not better, performance than we did in the final."

To a certain degree, the success brings the side a sense of liberation; many within Clare hurling believe they have already overachieved this season.

Still, their victory could yet propel them to even greater heights, but Kelly admits there is more pressure on the opposition this weekend. 

"At the start of the year, if you were to compare the objectives and the goals of both teams they certainly would have been different. Thurles would have been aiming for a Munster final or even a date in March, where we were more focused on going step by step. We were trying to get to that county final at the start of the year, and our goal was to go as far as we could.

"We weren’t as fixed on winning the county championship, but more focused on getting over the quarter-final and trying to break through to the final. Given the experience they have of winning in Tipp, the talent they have, and the fact that this is unknown territory for us, I think there’s very little pressure on us."