Fennelly faces anxious wait over wrist X-ray
MICHAEL Fennelly couldn't play in yesterday's All Star hurling exhibition in San Francisco, but the real concern for the Hurler of the Year centres on how quickly he can return to training after injuring his wrist in the Kilkenny county semi-final in October.
His left hand is in plaster and he is hoping that the absence of pain is a positive signal. He will have an X-ray shortly to determine its condition and, all going well, will be fit to return to training in January.
"That's the plan but I won't know until after the X-ray. There's always a chance it might need an operation, in which case it would take eight weeks to get right. I had the operation on my right hand before and it took two months to recover but I'm hopeful this one is healing well because I'm not feeling any pain," he said.
The injury is the only downside for Fennelly in a year where his status as a powerhouse midfielder reached new heights as he hurled his way to All-Ireland glory, and All Star and Hurler of the Year awards.
The full extent of his haul still hasn't sunk in but already he's looking to next year and the challenges it will bring.
"You have to start gearing yourself quickly because the season comes around so fast," he said.
"I'll get in some running and weights before Christmas and hopefully the hand will be okay to let me go straight back into the heavy action in January."
Looking ahead is very much a black-and-amber trait but Fennelly is happy to dwell briefly on a season where Kilkenny regained the top spot from Tipperary.
They did it against a background of uncertainty after losing the league final to Dublin, a setback which questioned whether the magic was gone.
"We never had a full team during the league. Naturally, you'd be a bit worried after losing the final the way we did, but we felt that when we got everyone back, we'd be a different proposition. I think we knew after the Wexford game, we were on the right track," he said.
Beating Tipperary was the sweetest possible conclusion to Kilkenny's championship adventure. The final holds special memories for Fennelly, whose first-half goal proved so significant.
It came following a darting run that took him into position after Kilkenny had worked an intricate pattern off a sideline ball which ended with Fennelly firing past Brendan Cummins.
It was his first championship goal and might not have arrived if he had his way with the line-ball. He was on his way over to take it when Henry Shefflin waved him away.
"I then decided to make a run and, next thing, Richie Hogan was giving me the perfect pass. I let fly and luckily it ended up in the net," he said.
It's a sweet memory but is in the past and already Fennelly is looking ahead to 2012, a season Kilkenny will undertake without his Ballyhale colleague, Cha Fitzpatrick, who has quit the panel.
Fennelly is sorry to see him go but understands his reasons. He also hopes the absence will be temporary.
"I know from experience how frustrating it can be on the bench. All the more so for Cha after playing for so long, winning All-Irelands and All Stars and captaining Kilkenny. The break might do him good and, who knows, maybe he will be back refreshed and ready to go again in 2013."
As Hurler off the Year, Fennelly's position in the Kilkenny midfield might look unassailable, but such is the mentality in the county that nothing is taken for granted.
"There are so many players challenging for every position that you have to lay down a marker for yourself. If you don't deliver, someone else will -- it's as simple as that," he said.
Still, it's most unlikely that Fennelly will be squeezed out for the foreseeable future. Having worked so patiently and diligently to assert himself as a consistent first-choice midfielder, he is determined to remain at the heart of the Kilkenny story. On the basis of his imperious form this year, his tenure could be a very long one.