Fennelly admits injury toll will be 'difficulty' when career ends
After making a Lazarus-like recovery to inspire further Liam MacCarthy success last September, Michael Fennelly tries to put thoughts on the physical toll which inter-county hurling is taking on his injury-ravaged body to the back of his mind.
A groin injury limited his championship preparation last summer, but not his performances as the all-action midfielder delivered a powerful second-half display to help deny Galway in last year's final.
As a strength and conditioning lecturer with Setanta College, Fennelly knows sports science inside out, but admits that the stresses placed on his body may come back to haunt him, both physically and financially.
"Look, you don't think about it now because it's all in the moment. It's all about winning and doing what you can because you don't get too many years at it but, yeah, I'd say the body could be a difficulty," Fennelly says.
"Obviously I've physio at my ease every day if I need them, I won't have that when I finish. I won't have that with my club either so I don't know how long my club career will be.
"I don't think it will last too long because I need physio constantly and that's just maintenance. When weather gets colder I get sorer and I'm prone to back injuries, which are pretty serious. When I completely stop hurling what's going to happen then like?"
The effects of last year's exertions, including painkilling injections before games, simply cannot continue. He took two months' rest following Ballyhale's club exit and is now "starting from scratch" as he looks to put his body back together for the year ahead.
Having commenced rehab, and prehab to prevent further injuries, a return date for the former Hurler of the Year is unknown. "I actually don't know when I'll be back," he admits.
"I'm going to see how this groin goes, get it healthy and that's when I'll be back playing. It'd be nice to get a few league games but we'll see how it goes but I'm starting back fresh and trying to get the body back in shape.
"There's no doubt I'll pick up something in April, I hope not to but it seems to happen every year. I'm 30 now so it's more about planning and timing now.
"Management are sound that way, they know the story. And the medical team work closely with them to see when I can and can't train. So there's never any pressure on me to play games, championship is a different story obviously."
And why wouldn't they be understanding? When taking the field, he has consistently been a stand-out performer overcoming odds that few others would be capable of matching.
But having watched team-mate Richie Power being forced to retire due to a long-standing knee complaint last week, Fennelly is aware of the risks associated with continuing his career while lamenting that the hurling world never witnessed the sustained brilliance of the Carrickshock attacker.
"For him a knee operation could be down the line, and down the line pretty quickly," the three-time All-Star says. "Even last year he didn't train at all because of his injury but he still got 10 minutes in the final.
"The management still had faith in him because he's lethal for goals and he showed that in the 2014 final, he got the vital goals. 2010 was probably one of his biggest years for Kilkenny, he was in at full-forward - for league and championship he was unstoppable, banging in goals constantly.
"No one could mark him and for me, that's when he really ignited. He would've been spotted at U-14 and maybe talked about as the next Henry (Shefflin). Then he got a few injuries and that kept him at bay.
"People talk about Joe Canning and Henry Shefflin as the best strikers of the ball but there's no doubt he was up there with them. It's a pity because I don't think we saw the best of Richie to be honest; we could've seen much more but injuries held him back."