Fennelly primed for final flourish
STRANGE but true.
In the last three years, Michael Fennelly has started and finished the League final across what must rank alone as the least talked-about three-in-a-row in hurling history.
Then, in the 10 games across Kilkenny subsequent three Leinster Championship campaigns, Fennelly missed nine through injury.
This year's calculated obliteration of hapless and helpless Offaly being his only exposure to provincial fare since 2011.
In 2012, in hammering Cork in Thurles, the then Hurler of the Year fractured a bone in his ankle.
The ligament damage would leave him sidelined for around 10 weeks, at which time Kilkenny had surrendered the Bob O'Keeffe Cup to Galway, the first time they failed to win it since 2004.
A year later in the League final of 2013 in Nowlan Park, he wiped Paudie Maher from centre-forward. Annihilated him.
Fennelly scored 2-3 yet wasn't seen again until that epic extra-time win over Waterford as Brian Cody tried desperately - and ultimately in vain - to keep the wheels on the wagon until September.
This year, sojourn in Australia, including period of prehab, complete, Fennelly started and finished the extra-time win over Tipp in Thurles and subsequently, the Offaly riot, only for a back spasm on the eve of the drawn Galway match to escalate and rule him out of the guts of a third Leinster campaign on the spin.
"A huge amount of work and time has gone into himself from the medical team, trying to get Michael back healthy again," says Brian Cody of a trick that Kilkenny have seemingly mastered these past three seasons, as demonstrated by his timely returns against Limerick (2012), Waterford ('13) and Limerick again in this year's All-Ireland semi-final.
"He came through that semi final very strongly," Cody adds.
"He has missed a lot of competitive action and has missed a huge amount of hurling training. But he has been working away within the realms of what he could do all along. He's a naturally very fit fella and we are hoping that he will be injury free for the final."
It's been an unfortunate run for one of hurling's most powerful players in a period where he could reasonably have been expected to dominate.
Back in 2012, Fennelly changed career paths too, leaving a job in banking to enrol to study a sports science course in UL.
"He has always had an interest in the area," explains Kilkenny selector and trainer, Michael Dempsey.
"Mick is a fantastic athlete. Unfortunately he has been plagued with a number of injuries but he has huge interest. I think he will have a very successful career in the area of sports performance.
"He is a very good example of best practice himself in terms of his holistic approach to getting himself right, so I have no doubt he will be able to impart that knowledge to other sports people in the future."
Last November, his interest in the field took him to Sydney, where Fennelly underwent an internship with AFL club, Sydney Swans for 10 weeks.
"He was out observing what they are doing at the Sydney Swans," says Dempsey. "Obviously no more than any of the other players, I would like to think I had an influence. I helped Mick out to come to some decisions about what he was doing in terms of his career."
He arrived back against Limerick on a day for warriors and after a couple of understandably ropey moments, he hit two points.
The Drumcondra typhoon didn't allow much scope for him to show it, but there isn't a hurler in Ireland who mixes power and speed so spectacularly and if he does break that line on Sunday in possession, goals will surely open up.
And now that he's back in situ, Cody says he is sure of Fennelly's fitness.
"He couldn't have been picked for the Limerick game if he hadn't got back in time to prepare for that game as well," he points out.
"He played in the game against Offaly but he has had ongoing trouble since then. It's going back a few years as well. He had a tough time last year. He's put huge time and commitment into trying to get himself into shape where he could play."
If semi-final positioning counts for anything, himself and Paudie Maher will take arms directly against one another again on Sunday, the first time since Fennelly thundered into Tipp's defensive lynchpin in last year's League final.
The admission price won't even cover it.