ON SEPTEMBER 4, Michael Fennelly took his seat among the Kilkenny substitutes in the Hogan Stand. In front of him, he watched Tipperary wipe the Cats out after half-time to deny the Leinster champions a third-straight title.
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
“It just wasn’t a good day,” Fennelly recalls. “There was a sensation of feeling lost and just not being part of it, and that was it really. You couldn’t offer anything on the field.”
The 31-year-old had been in superb form for the Cats when he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the replay against Waterford. It ruled him out of action for an extended period, and robbed Kilkenny of their most dynamic midfielder.
“When they said it looks like there was a need for a scan and I was gone. That hit home alright, that my year was gone. That was tough. Every year I go out, I try and play every game, try and not get injured but it always seems to come at me and I miss some sort of game. So that was tough, mentally.”
So he sat there helpless, as the Premier ran riot en route to their first All-Ireland victory in six years. He particularly felt the pain of defeat in the days after, when the players had to fulfill the post-All-Ireland formalities.
“You’re just a supporter on the day. It’s not enjoyable. And I was dreading the next day and the day after, on the crutches, with a cast. I’d rather have gone home, to be honest, on the Monday morning. But I hung around with the players. We did what we had to with the homecoming.
“I wasn’t playing, so it wasn’t as bad for me as some of the lads that played. Some lads didn’t play to their potential were upset about it. Whereas for me, I didn’t play, so I had no real feeling with it.”
Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO
If everything goes to plan, Fennelly expects to return to the field by next May. A long road lies ahead. A lecturer in sports science, the Ballyhale Shamrocks man has a philosophical outlook on the recovery.
“Any time you get a serious injury like that, you have to re-look at things, re-analyse. Where I am at the moment, this has to come back right either way, whether I come back hurling or not.
“So I’m staying positive. Hopefully get back in the jersey. There is no point doubting myself. You have to be positive and optimistic about these things.
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“I’ve done it before so it’s nothing strange to me to do this. I’m intrinsically motivated to do it. If someone wasn’t motivated, they’re not going to do it, simple as that.”
The thing is, Kilkenny need Fennelly back in the saddle. When Tipperary annexed their last All-Ireland in 2010, the Cats bounced back and won the next two. There’s far less optimism surrounding their ability to return to the top in the short-term.
“I suppose there’s a huge difference with our 2011 team and now, with all those big names gone. We have players coming in and filling their boots but it’ll never be the same obviously because they were top-class in the country hurlers. Henry (Shefflin), Tommy (Walsh), JJ (Delaney), you’d never come across them lads really for another couple of years or decade or two.
“But we have lads coming up. We have some nice players that haven’t been on the panel this year but I think could be brought in maybe next year. We probably need a bit of fresh blood coming in and pushing lads like me, and the older lads like Richie Hogan and TJ. They’re all now in their late twenties and we need players pushing them..
“I think the fact that we won ’14 and ’15 and we’ve won an awful lot over the last 10 years and maybe people are like, ‘look, this team has to come to a finish at some stage’.
“Obviously we don’t think that ourselves, but I think it’s only natural. What people say or think doesn’t really come into our perspective. We’re a team and we have goals that we set for ourselves. That’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter if people in our own county don’t think we’re strong enough. It’s what we think I suppose.”
Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
For now, Fennelly will put down a hard few months rehabing his Achilles. They’ll likely face Davy Fitzgerald’s Wexford in the Leinster semi-finals, a tie Fennelly hopes to play some part in.
“It looks like Wexford could be coming our direction from the draw. Davy is heading down that direction now to get the boys going down there. Any time we play Wexford it’s always a helter-belter game.
“Any team that comes our way, it’s always going to be a tough test, that’s the way I look at it. We’ll look after ourselves, that’s key for us and see from there.”
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