How does Kilkenny hurler Michael Fennelly balance work and play?
When it comes to genetics Kilkenny hurler Michael Fennelly counts himself as one of the lucky ones.
Like his father and the other famous Fennelly hurling men he has a fast metabolism. He is tall, strong, lean and athletic, his natural physique suits the game he loves. But in order to ensure that his body stays in optimum shape he works hard. Eating the right foods and doing the right training is vital and his routine is never from his mind.
Being a lecturer in nutrition at Limerick Institute of Technology makes it a little bit easier to achieve his goals but even armed with the knowledge of what constitutes good and bad nutrition maintaining a high level of commitment to clean living takes time. And constantly training hard on and off the pitch takes dedication.
Having summers off is a massive benefit because it means the Kilkenny star essentially gets to live the life of a full time athlete. He can train when he wants, prioritising his schedule so that his sessions yield the maximum benefit.
Sleep is important too so his day doesn’t typically start until after nine and it begins with a leisurely breakfast while listening to the radio. He’ll have a bowl of Weetabix, followed by smoked salmon or bacon along with avocado and eggs.
“Being organised is key; I go shopping most Monday evenings so I'm sorted for the week. I have everything ready, it's more waiting for the eggs that takes up the time but they are worth the wait,” says Fennelly.
After breakfast Fennelly will catch up on some emails – even though he is on holidays he keeps in touch with his Masters students. Once that is done he will head out for a walk, staying active is always on his mind especially as he suffers with an ongoing back injury.
“At the moment I'm good, I feel like I’m in good shape. I've had a back condition for years and that has upset a lot of things. It triggered off problems with my hamstrings and other bits and pieces as well, like my groin and hip-flexers. If I can sort that out hopefully everything else will sort itself out. It's not too bad at the minute.”
To stay fit Fennelly uses a performance kit made up of a resistance band, a myofosial ball, a mini band and a foam roller. Putting in the hours of prehab and rehab helps keep him mobile and strong and even though he isn’t always in the mood to do the work he knows that without it he won’t be able to play.
He puts a lot of value on the tools that can help him make marginal gains and he sees using statistics as a way to get an edge. They can offer great insight into what’s working or not working on the field of play.
“There is so much going on in a game of hurling, so much movement that it’s hard to see everything and of course there is so much emotion. You are living through every play and moment.”
With statistics growing in importance for the sport each year, the GAA has recently created a partnership with Sure to be its first “Official Statistics Partner”, supporting the GAA’s reports on match statistics throughout the GAA championships. It’s an area that Fennelly believes can help individual players improve their games.
“So it helps a lot to get the stats after a match, to see things like how many puckouts were won, how many possessions were given away, how many hooks or blocks a player did or how many frees were conceded. The knowledge forces you to ask questions of yourself, like why didn’t you win more ball.”
This self-examination is something that Fennelly most definitely does. The statistics from last year’s All-Ireland final showed that TJ Reid had the most possessions in the game while Eoin Larkin and Fennelly were next in line. Kilkenny are a team synonymous with work rate and movement. And although they don’t rely on statistics completely the information enhances what they do.
Having the time and the flexibility in his daily life to focus on improving his game is hugely beneficial and the All-Star winner makes the most of his freedom. When he’s not thinking about his game or training he’s planning his next meal.
“At around half eleven I’ll have some yogurt and some mixed berries. Then I’ll have lunch at around two. When it’s a training day I like to get in some carbohydrates. I usually have a chicken curry with rice or some pasta; I’ll always gear my lunch towards training.
“If you look at players these days, they are leaner and stronger, and nutrition plays a massive role in that. We are always training and training hard so nutrition can bring you on a lot more in terms of getting stronger and getting rid of that body fat.
“Body fat is becoming a big issue, a lot of teams try to bring their players percentage of it down. If you are carrying an extra couple of kgs of fat you are going to tire more and not be as fast.
“Some other players then are trying to increase muscle mass, trying to get stronger. Again diet can play a big role in this and to see results you need to put a big emphasis on nutrition and quality of food.”
In the Kilkenny set-up they have a part-time nutritionist and Brian Cody keeps an eye on things too. The GPA and the GAA in their latest deal have brought in a nutrition allowance for inter-county teams and while Fennelly sees nutrition as an important element of hurling, there is much more to it than that. He is a purist, and skill and dedication still count for a lot.
“When it comes to hurling there are so many variables there. At the end of the day someone who has a high percentage body fat could be your best hurler. Hurling is a skilful game and while body fat and nutrition is important you can't make it the be all and end all.”
Training starts at seven so Fennelly will eat again before the session, usually having pancakes or a scone and some fruit. Throughout the day he’ll also have consumed three or four litres of water.
The squad usually arrive at training at six, so they can get any physiotherapy or mobility work done. Then they are on the pitch for seven and will train for just over an hour.
After training the team head to Langtons Hotel for a meal that ranges from a steak, to pasta or a curry. Although the discipline required to compete at the top is something Fennelly embraces he also believes in the value of taking a break.
Every now and then he will have a pizza or head to the local chipper. But considering the influence on a hurling pitch in the black and amber, this will have to be seen to be believed.
Sure is the Official Statistics Partner of the GAA. To uncover the story Behind Every Move, visit Sure on Facebook.