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Exclusive: Michael Fennelly Talks Croker, Injuries, All-Irelands And More

After rupturing his Achilles tendon in last Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final win over Waterford, Kilkenny’s Michael Fennelly will miss next month’s All-Ireland final clash with Tipperary. Today, he spoke exclusively to Pundit Arena to chat all things hurling.

Fennelly described the injury as “a tough one” but stated that there’s not much he could do. Having suffered numerous injuries throughout his career, next month’s September showdown will be the first All-Ireland final that he will miss.

For Fennelly, Kilkenny’s triumphant win over Waterford last weekend was a bittersweet one. The Ballyhale man injured his Achilles tendon during the game, which means he won’t be on the field in the upcoming All-Ireland hurling final. Sure’s short film, ‘Behind Every Move’, beautifully encapsulates the players triumph over adversity and Fennelly’s drive to still play a part in his team’s journey despite this late setback.

Kilkenny’s win over the Déise last Saturday was significantly helped by the impact of both Mark Bergin and Liam Blanchfield, both of whom were making their championship debuts. Fennelly had nothing but praise for the duo and acknowledged that they performed admirably after being thrown in to the deep end by manager Brian Cody.

“Obviously we needed an improvement in performance and Waterford were obviously going pretty well at that stage so it’s a tough tough place to go, in a semi-final, a big game. Look, the way it went was we got on top in certain areas. We probably got better ball in to our forwards in this game in comparison to previous games. I think that helped a lot.   The lads stood up big time and I think Blanchfield maybe picked off three points. There was a massive impact from both of them.”

In terms of high intensity and high-quality clashes Fennelly described the two battles with Waterford as being ”well up there” with the best of the battles he has had in the black and amber jersey
Michael Fennelly 3/7/2016

“It’s well up there with the games we’ve had with Tipperary over the last number of years. Those games (against Waterford) had everything, goals points, lots of skill, work rate, a lot of blocks and hooks. It was a really hard intense game. I’d expect nothing less to be honest  because of the quality that they have. They are coming, they are going to be a strong contestant over the next couple of years.”

Fennelly described both semi-finals as “great occasions” but expressed Croke Park as his preference in terms of venues.

“I prefer Croker myself. It’s always nice to play in Croke Park. It’s a nice big field. You have your own routine with the warm-up area. But look, Thurles was around the corner for both teams and the atmosphere was electric on Saturday night.”

The 2011 Player Of The Year stated that the build-up to the All-Ireland final won’t be as bad as the match itself, knowing he can’t do anything about the game, due to his injury.

Michael Fennelly 8/12/2011

“Normally the build up isn’t so bad. It’s difficult alright, but the game itself will be a hundred times worse. Just being there and not being able to give a contribution in any shape or form in terms of the game itself for the 70 minutes, will be very very difficult.”

“Sure look that’s the way it is. Brian Hogan missed the 2010 All Ireland which a lot of people don’t remember and JJ Delaney in 2006. Unfortunately it’s after catching me now on this one.”

Speaking of All-Ireland finals, we asked the Ballyhale star which was his favourite All-Ireland win. Although he captained the Cats to success in 2009, it was the 2011 victory over Tipp that stands out for Fennelly. After losing in their quest for five-in-a-row, Fennelly and company grasped their chance at redemption.

“There have been a good few of them and all of them are very very precious. I think 2011 was probably the one that stands out for me. We lost in 2010 and a lot of questions were asked about the team. That year (2010), I got nominated for Player Of The Year and I needed to back that up the following year, and that’s the year I got Player Of The Year. I had a hand injury that year so I missed an awful lot of training throughout the whole summer. It was a testament to the team and everyone to get back to the final first of all, and then to beat our arch rivals and local neighbours Tipperary.”

“There were lots of questions asked, were Kilkenny good enough and I think we really showed our true colours that day and it was great to get a victory. It was one that we were looking forward to since the All Ireland in 2010. We needed to get back there again and prove ourselves.”

Many people wonder where Kilkenny get their hunger to keep coming back to win more and more All-Irelands. Fennelly’s statement above epotomises the hunger that the Cats possess. The 2010 loss hurt Kilkenny and they were determined to reclaim the Liam McCarthy Cup as soon as possible.

MIchael Fennelly celebrates scoring a goal 4/9/2011

Speaking about his brother, Colin, Michael was delighted with his younger brother’s performance last Saturday in Thurles.

“It was great to see him play well the last day, he got on the ball that bit more and he stuck in one or two goals so that was great for him because he hasn’t performed as well as he would have liked to for the last few games so that will be a massive boost of confidence for him.”

Fennelly highlighted the advantages and the slight disadvantage of having a sibling on the team.

“Normally it’s great to have someone in your family on the team and it makes it that bit more personal. If you see him not playing so well or maybe being taken off it does bring you down a small bit but that’s the way it is. “

Michael Fennelly and Colin Fennelly 3/7/2016

Since Fennelly joined the Kilkenny senior panel in 2006, hurling has evolved significantly. The 31-year-old stated that physicality was the obvious change.

“Physicality, the game has gone pretty physical. It was very physical before but I think players are getting a lot bigger and the weights have contributed an awful lot to that. I think the short game has improved a lot, maybe 10 or 15 yard passes are seen a lot more these days.”

To finish off the interview, Fennelly was asked four quick questions.

Toughest opponent?

“At the moment I’d say it would be Kevin Moran. He gave me a serious handful in the first game and I’ve marked him a few times before on different occasions and I’ve always found him quite difficult to mark. He’s big. He’s athletic. He’s good in the air. He’s an all round good hurler. “

Toughest opponent in training?

“Chasing after the likes of Lester Ryan is tough. Lester has a fair engine on him and he does a lot of running so that can be tough at times. With Conor Fogarty, obviously we would have good tussles. You always have a hard contest at training.”

If there was a transfer market in hurling, who would you buy?

“There’s a few players I’d like to buy. I suppose maybe the likes of Austin Gleeson. Look, Austin is at the moment, a serious player in the game. He’s only 21 years of age so you would expect a good few years ahead of him. He’s great to watch, very skilful and strong as well to be fair to him so at the moment he’d be the player.”

Who was your childhood hero?

“Probably the likes of DJ Carey but as the years go on it tends to change. Obviously Henry (Shefflin) would be our local man too and I went to watch games that he played in and that was great. Funnily enough, it probably shifted towards Darragh Ó Sé in Gaelic football. As a midfielder he was awesome. I admired his attitude, physicality and everything he brought to the game so it probably ended up being him.”

Henry Shefflin and Michael Fennelly on the pitch before the game 23/6/2013

Thanks to Sure, the official statistics partner for the GAA championships up to the end of the 2018 season.
Seán Ó Murchú, Pundit Arena

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.