Tony Kelly has revealed that Davy Fitzgerald promised Clare they would win the All-Ireland – while they were struggling to beat Wexford in a July qualifier.
Speaking at the RTE Sports Awards, where Clare were named Team of the Year and Fitzgerald Manager of the Year, Kelly said: “The qualifier against Wexford, where at the end of the game we had thrown away a four-point lead and were facing extra-time, Davy told us that if we won extra-time we’d go on and win the All-Ireland.
“When he said that, I was looking around thinking ‘This fella is mad. We’re struggling in a qualifier’ but that just shows the belief he had in us.
Kelly, who himself won both the GAA/GPA Hurler of the Year and Young Hurler of the Year awards, said a lot of credit must go to Fitzgerald for making the players believe in themselves.
“At the start of the year, I didn’t think I’d be in this position at the end of it. The main goal was the All-Ireland but I still can’t really believe we won it. It’s been incredible.
“The feeling at the final whistle at the end of that replay was unbelievable. Davy had shown us videos of 1995 and 97 (Clare title wins) and he told us that the homecoming was the best feeling ever. We took inspiration from that because we wanted to achieve it ourselves.
"When those chances come around you’ve got to take them" - Davy Fitzgerald
Kelly revealed the extent of Fitzgerald’s dedication, which stretched to supervising the forward on a 5.0am Christmas Eve run.
“I had work at 9 o’clock on Christmas Eve and we were supposed to be doing an outrageous run, about 20km or more,” said Kelly.
“I texted Davy saying I had work and wouldn’t be able to make it, and he said ‘that’s grand, you don’t have to do it’.
“But then the night before he texted me saying ‘I’ll see you at five in the morning’.
The lights of Fitzgerald’s car lit the way as Kelly ran.
“That just goes to show the lengths he’ll go to, to make sure you’re training!” laughed Kelly.
Fitzgerald paid tribute to his side's dedication and admitted that his first thoughts after the win were “pure relief”.
“The pressure that’s on is incredible," he said. "It’s easy to say that guys are young and they’ll get another chance but when those chances come around you’ve got to take them.
“I had my time and it was fantastic. When these guys got that opportunity I just wanted them to get over the line. When they did it was just a relief.
“When we lifted it back in 97 you thought it would happen again sooner than that but it was a long time waiting. But when it did, what a feeling.
“The biggest thing I get out of sport is watching emotion. When you see people around the stands , and you see their reaction, that’s why we do it. That was fantastic.”
“They’re a unique bunch. They’re very dedicated. They’re very driven. Their only thing was to play hurling for Clare, that’s all they wanted to do.”