Friday 30 September 2016

Henry Shefflin: Freakish Michael Fennelly sums up Kilkenny's unbreakable warrior spirit

Henry Shefflin

Published 07/09/2015 | 14:00

'Mick Fennelly was man of the match in my view, just ahead of Eoin Larkin'
'Mick Fennelly was man of the match in my view, just ahead of Eoin Larkin'

At the interval my mind was swirling with doubt and anxiety as Galway controlled the first-half exchanges and deservedly led by three points.

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They were winning the aerial duels, tackling in packs and playing at an intensity that made me think back to the 2012 final, where we were dominated for large periods.

The first half was not an enjoyable experience for a Kilkenny man, but as well as Galway were playing, there was nothing in it.

In a similar style to other victories, we kept our heads barely above water in the face of serious adversity and our leaders stood up in the dressing-room and drove the team forward, in true Kilkenny fashion.

Colin Fennelly spoke afterwards of the rousing speech made by Jackie Tyrrell to rally the troops and that shows his mettle.

Read more: Kilkenny (7) and Galway (4) dominate The Sunday Game Hurling team of the Year

Jackie had a broken foot and burst himself to return and tog out yesterday. He probably shouldn't have had but that's Jackie.

Marker

Everyone would have demanded higher work-rate from themselves in the second half and they came out a new team, with Mick Fennelly laying down a physical marker straight away.

In the opening half our forwards were moving around into different positions but we settled into a more traditional style of six forwards in six positions, and I think Brian Cody's call would have been to win your own area.

From there on we imposed our game on Galway, a complete role reversal.

Galway got sucked in and played everything down the middle, which allowed Kieran Joyce, Cillian Buckley and Padraig Walsh to start dictating the game. We suffocated their play.

Read more: High pain threshold and unsung heroes – Five things we learned from Kilkenny's victory

Conversely, our peppering of their flanks bore fruit.

Padraig had a thundering second half, while the midfield gained a foothold. Conor Fogarty was Mr Consistency yet again while my clubmate Mick Fennelly was man of the match in my view, just ahead of Eoin Larkin.

Given his injury-ravaged body, his performances this year have been nothing short of miraculous. He's bit of a freak in that he doesn't need to train hard to get in top shape.

He was a powerhouse yesterday and all around him Kilkenny were hitting higher gears that Galway couldn't live with it. That's the difference between winning semi-finals and finals, it takes that little bit extra.

TJ Reid showed his worth in the second half. He got the vital goal after 13 minutes but also foraged and grafted like a true warrior and his distribution was superb.

The vision for Larkin's point where he hand-passed over two Galway men was fantastic.

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I can remember him getting straight off the bus from St Kieran's and pucking balls back out to me in Ballyhale and now he's in line to be Hurler of the Year.

Special mention must go to Shane Prendergast and Ger Aylward. They were in the stand last year having not made the 26, but when their opportunity came they grasped it and they have seamlessly stepped into a successful environment.

Brian integrates one or two new players every year and I take my hat off to him yet again.

This year I sense he's enjoying it more than ever and he just relishes the challenge of keeping Kilkenny at the top.

He has a relentless hunger for success, and after soldiering with him for 10 successes it's great to be able to sit back and really appreciate his incredible achievements.

Devastation

For Galway, it's sheer devastation. They'll lick their wounds and if they can get back again next year the experience will stand to them but they must drive on from here.

Read more: From Croke Park to Syria – All-Ireland winner Eoin Larkin 'nervous' ahead of peace-keeping assignment

It's a long way back, as Limerick and Clare well know.

lt was a strange experience sitting in studio passing comment on the game - when the final whistle was blown I wanted to be pitch side sharing it with the lads that I spent my career with.

They have a great week ahead and I'm thrilled for Joey Holden and the team.

So it's another year down and another Liam MacCarthy for Kilkenny.

From personal experience I can tell you it never grows old, each one is cherished as much as the last and it won't be long before thoughts turn to 2016. That's the Kilkenny way.

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