Eoin Kelly: My very own Sliotargate experience

With the small ball on the lips of the GAA world this week, the Tipp legend lifts the lid on his infamous penalty miss…


I remember the 2005 Munster Final against Cork as clear as day; I was right on my game from the start. I was getting on the ball and my confidence was sky-high.

Then we got THAT penalty. I sent it towards the Cork goal, Micheál Webster caught a fantastic ball and he was dragged down by Diarmuid O’Sullivan.

We were six points behind at the time, so when you look at the context of the game it was a crucial moment. A small bit of a rumpus ensued, which we found out later had been pre-planned by Cork.

It gave them the opportunity to slip in this O’Neill’s sliotar with huge rims on it. They must have learned a lesson for the previous Munster decider when Waterford’s Paul Flynn top-spinned into the top corner against them.

* Skip to 3.50 in the video for the incident

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It wasn’t a nice ball to say the least. They’d obviously found it in a batch and kept it especially for this kind of incident. It had ‘T-I-P-P’ written across it and when I picked it up I knew straight away it was a dud sliotar.

I tried bringing it to the referee’s attention, but Barry Kelly wasn’t having it. Then I said to myself: “Feck it, I’ll stick it in anyway”.

However, the rims made it impossible to hit the ball true and I couldn’t get any power into it. Donal Óg Cusack nearly controlled it because he had so much time to see the ball.

To make matters worse, Cork followed up the save by rampaging up the field and Kieran ‘Fraggy’ Murphy put it over from about 50 yards.

When people ask me now was I happy with that penalty, I say ‘no’. Knowing it was a dummy ball had almost motivated me to bury it even more. But there was no way I was ever going to get enough force behind it, Cork kicked on from that point and we never pulled them back.

To bring it all full circle, I learned from what Donal Óg did later that year when we met Galway in the quarter-final. I found an old O’Neill’s ball with no rims. It was rock hard and I had it ready to go if we got a penalty that day.

As it turned out, we did get one, and I made sure to exchange the match ball for my sliotar with Lar Corbett, who was carrying the water for the forwards that day. So I got to take the penalty with the ball I wanted.

The shot was blocked on the line by Derick Hardiman, but the extra weight and speed on the ball carried it over the line. We didn’t go on to win, but it’s funny how things flipped in the space of two games.

There’s no grudge with Donal Óg or the Cork team over that incident. If I had my time again I’d have hit that ball over the Blackrock Terrace before the penalty attempt ever took place.

I knew at the time it was a dummy ball so I’ve got no hard feelings at all.

When I read the quotes from Cusack’s book in 2009 my suspicions where confirmed, but it would have hurt me more if that match was a one or two point game all the way through.

Cork blew us away that day and showed what kind of a team they were when they went on to win the 2005 Munster and All-Ireland titles. I just want to get the point across to people that I knew all along the ball was a dud, but that day I was in such good form I felt I’d nail it anyway.

Same balls for all

Teams will always try to get their preferred ball into the game, but sliotar dark arts have been going on for years.

As a seller of sliotars, I’ve no problem with the ball being standardised. But the one thing I will say is that the opinion of top players, free-takers and goalkeepers on any change is vital.

They’re the ones that will be using them, pucking them out, taking sidelines and trying to put over frees with them. The GAA must ask for their input.

The perfect ball these days seems to be the one with a low rim. It’s preferred by most players for accuracy and touch.

That type of sliotar has added greatly to our game. It was used in the 2013 and 2014 All-Ireland finals and those are still spoken about as two of the most exciting finals of all time.

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What do you think?