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Fennelly: 'I was poor in final'

THE 2011 Hurler of the Year says he's determined to do better in replay.

IF last season was the year which caused (as he memorably said himself at the end-of-year All Stars banquet) "the hairs on your backside to stand on end" for Michael Fennelly, such is the paucity of luck the reigning Hurler of the Year has enjoyed in 2012, it's no wonder he got a sinking feeling in the All-Ireland final when things began to get . . . well, hairy.

"Yeah, even 20 minutes into the game I was thinking 'is this is a repeat of the Leinster final?' because they were running all over the place and getting scores and they were on fire and the crowd were well behind them," he admits.

"It was credit to our players to get back into the game, actually claw it back and start picking off the points."

If, though, Fennelly does end the season with an All-Ireland medal, there is a chance he'll look at it alongside last year's Celtic Cross and afford himself a grin.

If no-one did as much as Fennelly did to reclaim the Liam MacCarthy for Kilkenny last year, his presence has been altogether more fleeting and less familiar in 2012.

An ankle injury incurred in March forced him out of the remainder of the league, the Leinster Championship and that defeat by Galway on July 8 and if it wasn't for Kilkenny's novel appearance in an All-Ireland quarter-final against Limerick, it's entirely plausible that his summer involvement might have constituted just two games.

Now, by virtue of the 'draw that no one foresaw', he'll have started four matches, the same number as last year when he finished with the gong of Hurler of the Year, although his imprint on the season will have a less omnipotent feel.

"The last day I was quite poor, to be honest," he admits, quite candidly. "I didn't really get into the game as I thought I would, it bypassed me at times. It was a strange game, the fact Galway were batting the ball back 20 yards or so and the ball was flying past midfield, so you have to adjust to the game.

"There was a lot of running and Galway have a lot of runners. Smith, who I was marking, is quite fast. (Damien) Hayes, (Joe) Canning is able to move, and Cyril Donnellan.

"So, the Galway lads like the running game, you are trying to track players the whole time. You ended up running around the field, not getting near the ball."

If he and Kilkenny fall on Sunday, there is a chance that one of his midfield opponents, Iarla Tannian, could end up as his successor as Hurler of the Year.

It's been quite a transformation for the Galway man, and perhaps indicative of the way the position is transforming.

It seems as if the days of the small, sprightly midfielder with a sharp touch and a clean strike are gone and in their stead, the more robust figures of Fennelly, Tannian, Michael Rice and Liam Rushe are being implemented in the middle third.

"To be fair, the lads are probably the best midfield partners I've seen this year throughout the Championship," comments Fennelly of the Tannian/ (Andy) Smyth axis.

"If I was to look back and analyse it, I suppose Iarla is a big lad and Andy is a small lad and well able to run. In saying that Iarla is abler to move with the ball as well. If he gets the ball he is a very hard man to stop. I think he was man of the match the last day.

"So, the two of them probably took over midfield in their last couple of games, and in our game they definitely took control there as well and that is something we have to try and put right the next day.

Back foot

"But I suppose the game was up and down really. The first 20 minutes of the game we were out of it altogether, they were winning at midfield. We were on the back foot and five points down at half-time. I suppose at that stage we would have taken a draw, we weren't hurling at all.

"But to be fair in the second half lads stood up, especially Henry (Shefflin) and the forwards. They grabbed hold of the game and took it on in the forwards. Too many of us didn't play to the standard that we normally do.

"We were disappointed about that. That's to Galway's credit that they actually stopped those hurlers from hurling and they were probably better on the day. All in all I am happy we have another crack at this game and can try and put in a better performance."

Still, it's been a surreal few weeks for Fennelly, a bit like New Year's Eve being cancelled at a quarter-to-midnight.

"There is normally a huge buzz and huge hype around All-Ireland final day and it has been a bit strange, the atmosphere is very, very strange," he reckons.

"Even with the weather and that, the lights even, there is not as much light in the evenings so we are training earlier. Even the field, the field is not what it was two weeks ago. It is a very strange place we have never been in before," he adds, "but we just get on with it and don't make excuses."