For another two years, out alongside my son
to the underage club sides at Clonmore and with the Carlow Colts, the county under-16 squad, of which his son Rory is a part.
“Technically, if I keep playing for another two years, I could be lining out alongside my son. The family came to our last game against Mount Leinster and were buzzing afterwards, especially my youngest Ailbhe. My wife does worry a little. In 2008, I tore my Achilles and last year, injured my quad in a game. But look, I got over it and kept going, it wasn’t going to kill me.”
And Johnny, a warehouse and logistics manager, has no intention of hanging up the boots anytime soon.
“Football means so much to me, always has, always will. I think a lot of lads stop playing far too young. As long as you’re fit, I think you should stick at it — you’ll be stopped playing and wishing you were for long enough.”
Tommy Kelly, who has held so many different roles with the Clonmore GAA club over the years, has never really retired. “Sure, I love it. I turned 61 in February but still feel great — and always tog out just in case the junior side need me. Often, they might be short on numbers, especially around exam time, so I’m happy to step in if needs be. Ours is a small club with a great heart in it, great people showing incredible dedication. It would be very hard to walk away from something like that.”
And he tells me there’s value in having the older, wiser heads sprinkled throughout a side too.
“The young lads are great but sometimes you need that bit of experience thrown in as well. Calmer heads in the heat of battle.”
While his playing time these days is limited, he’s still picking up medals in the sporting arena.
“I don’t play as often as I used to. My position was always corner back, but I’m happy to get a run wherever I’m needed. I also play handball and only won a doubles handball tournament there a few weeks ago.”
And he couldn’t imagine life without his precious Clonmore.
“Sure, I’d be lost without it. These clubs are so important to rural Ireland, not just to the young but to lads like me who may be getting on but who love their club and everyone in it.”
A lot of lads stop playing way too young