Tipperary’s Niall Kelly gets to grips with Cork’s Philip Clifford in the 2002 Munster Football Final Replay at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.PHOTO: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Kelly relives 2002 final drama

Niall Kelly will always be remembered as the player who scored the equalising point for Tipperary which forced a replay against Cork in the 2002 Munster Senior football final.

By Liam Hogan

Niall Kelly will always be remembered as the player who scored the equalising point for Tipperary which forced a replay against Cork in the 2002 Munster Senior football final.

The former Tipperary and Kiladangan star now lives and works with with his family in San Francisco in the United States but he doesn’t miss a beat as all of the games from home are transmitted each Sunday morning at 5am with his house alive with kids decked out in Tipp colours for each game.

It may be eighteen years ago, but his memory of that Munster final remains so clear it might have been last Sunday.

“The heat was ridiculous,” he recalls of that day in Semple Stadium on July 14th 2002.

“Peter Lambert and Declan Browne were on fire in the first half, but Cork got two fortunate goals. Brendan Jer O’Sullivan scored both. He mishit the firsts shot but it rolled into the net and the second one he was going for a point but went over Philip Ryan’s head and into the corner of the net. It was a fluke goal,” Kelly recalls.

A Benny Hickey goal put Tipperaryback in front, but Cork fought back and a Colin Corkery point edged the Rebels ahead going into added time when Niall Kelly found himself a long way from his regular position of corner back.

“Brendan Cummins went down with cramp with a couple of minutes left. He got back up and said he was shattered and asked me to move to the attack. He said he would stay back and cover for me,” Kelly recalls.

“I crept up along, nobody noticed. Willie Morrissey picked me out with a near perfect pass. My shooting boots were not that good, so I fisted it over the bar. It was great at the time but not good the following week. We got an awful hiding in the replay.

“Declan Browne, Peter Lambert, Kevin Mulryan, Fergal O’Callaghan and Sean Collum played so well. Damien Byrne had the envious task in marking Colin Corkery and did quite well. Looking back, it was probably a good chance lost.”

Tipperary were hammered 1-23 to 0-7 in the replay the following Sunday at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, the closest the Premier County has come to a first Munster title since 1935.

Another opportunity comes this Sunday as they play a first provincial final with the rebels since 2002 and after their win over Kerry in the semi-final, there is an optimism that this might just be Tipperary’s year.

“I wouldn’t say it’s an easier task,” Kelly said of playing Cork instead of Kerry.

“The lads are used to beating Cork. They have beaten them in the league and the championship as well. I always feel we have a mental block against Kerry. Kerry are a better football side than Cork. Cork are very good, but Kerry are amazing.”

Kelly is still a keen follower of Tipperary football from thousands of miles away and has been impressed by their performances so far.

“I watched all the games,” he said.

“Conor Sweeney’s kick to equalise against Limerick was very reminiscent of Maurice Fitzgerald equaliser against Dublin. The first half was very poor but how the attacked in the second half was amazing.

“Steven O’Brien is a huge loss. Jack Kennedy is playing very well. It shows the character the team has. With Colin O’Riordan involved the kickouts are now very important especially in this type of weather and to have some like him to win them is important. He is a very powerful runner. Colman Kennedy is another powerful runner.”

With the Covid-19 pandemic, getting home to Ireland has been put on hold for Niall Kelly who works as a consultant engineer in San Francisco and has been working throughout as his job is seen as an essential service. However, he and his wife and two kids have been safe so far.

“With two kids under the age of three it didn’t really affect us,” he said.

“There is a second wave, but it is not as strong, but they haven’t opened everything back up yet. The Bay area itself has been very lucky.

“I don’t see myself going back home next year until July at least. One of the few positive things to come out of Covid is that I have watched all of the games back home and especially all of the Kiladangan games,” Niall said.

Let’s hope he will be back to relive the deeds of 2002 and Kiladangan’s county final win with his friends and family when it is safe to do so.

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