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'I don't want that struggle any more' - Fennelly turns attention to Offaly

 

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SELF-BELIEF: Offaly manager Michael Fennelly during the Kehoe Cup final
against Antrim at Páirc Tailteann in January. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile

SELF-BELIEF: Offaly manager Michael Fennelly during the Kehoe Cup final against Antrim at Páirc Tailteann in January. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile

SELF-BELIEF: Offaly manager Michael Fennelly during the Kehoe Cup final against Antrim at Páirc Tailteann in January. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile

In the end, Michael Fennelly could no longer quell the noise from a screaming body dragged through the trenches for a lot of the last decade in which he was, arguably, hurling's most influential midfielder.

Colleague marvelled at his ability to patch up and get out on a field with seemingly little or no preparation, as far as they could see, and play the way he did.

From his arthritic back to a ruptured Achilles Tendon, poor ankle mobility, knees that needed constant cleaning out and a groin that, to this day, is nagging away at him, Fennelly has bowed to the inevitable by signing off from Ballyhale Shamrocks, who he had captained to the last two All-Ireland club titles, almost two-and-a-half years on from his Kilkenny departure.

"For the last two or three years it has been on the cards and with injuries I have asked myself 'what am I doing' because with family and work (as an LIT Thurles-based sports science lecturer) it's really important not going around on crutches or being out of work," the 35-year-old acknowledged.

Still, in January when Shamrocks completed back-to-back titles, he wasn't "100 per cent certain" that he had played his last game.

"I would have spoken to the players after the match saying thanks for all that they have done and I think they were thinking it was a retirement speech. But at the end without me even knowing it, I said something like 'but sure who knows what can happen.' They all had a good laugh at that thinking 'he'll be back, he's only codding all of us.' It was there in the back of my mind."

But Covid-19 and the pandemic's closure of gyms that had become life support for Fennelly's existence as a hurler to manage a creaking body, allied to what lay ahead with Offaly, made the decision final.

"It made life a hell of a lot harder. I need access to a gym. I am still doing a bit of running but I just think I'd have a mountain to climb. I'd need six months of prehab and again I'd still be struggling just to train and I don't want that struggle any more. I was heading down the direction where something big is going to happen if I didn't cop on to myself."

Reshaping

Now, full and undivided attention can turn to reshaping Offaly senior hurling as their manager, one of the youngest around when he was appointed last autumn at 34. The biggest thing retirement as a player will give him is more time to think and talk, he feels.

"The thing I am adjusting to is the time, how little of it there is. You're not going to go into much detail having a conversation in a corridor and it is not overly private. Maybe there are players struggling with exams, other things going on with relationships or on the financial side of things. There's a lot going on there, a big massive family of 50 or 60 people. It's not full-time and that's the negative to a part-time sport that we play, that you can't get around to everyone."

Their failure to get promoted from Div 2A after being hit late by two Antrim goals in March was another blip in a long list of blips but Fennelly cautions against persistent expectation around the county.

"It comes from Offaly being a Liam MacCarthy team because they won in the 1980s and 1990s but you can't base that off this decade. You have to look at what the success has been at underage, what has the success being at schools. That dictates how a senior team will do to a certain degree and unfortunately, Offaly haven't been competitive at underage level for 20 plus years. What do people expect?"

His desire to build more "self belief" can only come through results while the establishment of a new "culture" and an "identity" will take time, fostered through the respect of their community again.

To that end, they are staging a double fundraiser this weekend, an online variety show featuring 14 players, some from the U-20s and the camogie team and Fennelly himself and local media figure including the 'Irish Independent's' Michael Verney.

The remainder of the squad will take part in a 'solo run' from Kilcormac to Tullamore, a distance of 20 kilometres between two points which has relevance to the charities they are supporting. Jigsaw Offaly have been partnered with Offaly GAA for the last five years and their office is in Tullamore, while Offaly Down Syndr ome is based in Kilcormac.