It is still only the first week in January but Waterford hurling is already embroiled in controversy with the news that Eoin Kelly has been omitted from new manager, Michael Ryan’s squad for the coming year.
While Kelly has often proven to be a controversial and petulant character, there is no doubt that he is a talented hurler and at still only 29 years of age, it was thought that Ryan would include the Passage clubman in his squad for the current year.
Kelly made a breakthrough with Waterford in 2002 as the county won their first Munster title since 1963. Back then, Kelly was fresh-faced, dynamic wing-forward who often broke down defences with long, swashbuckling solo runs. At the end of that year, he was rewarded with an All-Star award and it was thought that Waterford had unearthed a star for the future.
In the middle of the last decade, Kelly played some exuberant hurling at midfield where he superb long-range striking was a massive asset and he also popped up with the odd crucial goal as well, as epitomised by the spectacular goal he scored in the never to be forgotten Munster final of 2004. He also picked up an All-Star award in 2008 when his scoring powers fired Waterford to the All-Ireland final.
In the last couple of years, injuries have appeared to take their toll on Kelly and his role has been reduced to that of super sub in recent seasons under Davy Fitzgerald. He did score a fabulous goal in Waterford’s victory over Cork in the 2010 Munster final but he never kicked on from there and failed to nail down a regular place for the 2011 season.
It was rumoured as early as November that Ryan was going to omit Kelly from his squad when the story went around that Kelly was not part of a 50 player squad. The rumour at the time was that Kelly was given a fitness programme to follow and that he would be assessed again in the New Year. A statement from Michael Ryan this morning would appear to back up this story and he iterates that Kelly has been dropped after this assessment.
He does go on however, to say that he rang Kelly and invited him to join the panel on the basis that he meet with management and that Kelly refused. Kelly did respond on WLRFM, by saying that he was disappointed but he respected the manager’s decision and would go back training with his club. He did make it clear that he was not retiring from inter-county hurling.
After the controversial departures of Ken McGrath and Dan Shanahan in recent seasons, this controversy is not the ideal start to Michael Ryan’s tenure as Waterford manager. He has also caused further consternation by naming twins Thomas and Maurice O’Gorman from his own club, Fourmilewater in the squad. Over the last few years, the O’Gorman twins have been lynchpins of the Waterford football squad and such has been their influence on the football team, that both players have represented Munster in the Railway Cup.
The decision to call them up has not ranked well with Waterford football supporters who have seen this before when other star footballers such as Wayne Hennessy and Ger Power were called up to the hurling squad but left sitting on the bench while the footballers struggled in Division 4.