Back injury puzzle puts hurling in perspective for Fennelly
Bending down to tie his shoelaces these days, Michael Fennelly's back likes to push a bit of perspective his way.
He's an inter-county hurler, he lets his life revolve around that but for how long can he allow those pains and aches shoot through the core of his body without giving proper thought to the future?
It was a question he was happy to embrace yesterday as he prepares for a 10th championship campaign with Kilkenny.
Fennelly has just overcome his latest back 'flare-up,' a problem that can't be accurately diagnosed but presents enough barriers in daily life to set him thinking about life beyond the hurling field. It's that acute.
"It probably has been there in the last year or two, in the back of my mind, just body-wise and life," he admitted.
"Life is more important and people forget about you pretty quick when you move on, no matter how many All-Ireland medals you have, unfortunately.
"But at the moment, I had a back problem (last year) and I thought that was it but it has been back at me again this year, which has been a bit of a scare, to be honest."
Injuries have played havoc with Fennelly in the three years since he was crowned Hurler of the Year in 2011.
In 2012, he damaged ankle ligaments in the league final win over Cork that took him out until the All-Ireland semi-final that year. In 2013, he suffered more damage to the ankle, this time in a club game that left him sidelined until the All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Cork.
Last year he got just one Leinster Championship game under his belt against Offaly - a game he feels he shouldn't have even hurled in - before his back gave in, leaving him out until the All-Ireland semi-final with Limerick.
Each season has followed a predictable and frustrating pattern for the Ballyhale man - a "nightmare" in his own words. But it's his latest ailment that worries him most.
"Your back is everything and if it is not right, if you can't do daily functions and if you have kids in the future and you can't play with them, that's a different scenario.
"It's something that I will revisit at some stage and see how my body is in relation to what is going on with it. Fortunately, when I am training well and everything is going well, it feels great. But then, with an injury like that - especially with your back - it puts everything into perspective.
"It is hard to know what actually happens with it. But daily functions, like bending down to pick up stuff, I am in trouble with that.
"Even walking, I can't jog. It has settled down now for the moment," he said. "But if it goes off, that's me finished with training for a while because I can't do anything until I am pain-free again. It is the lower back so you can't do gym work, can't swim, can't jog. You can walk, but what good is that going to be? You just have to let it rest and let it settle and hopefully the medication kicks in.
"Once the pain settles, you can get back training - the medical team are quite good and we take it slowly, day by day, and see how I am feeling.
"But every time I go into a gym session I am looking for that reaction, hoping to God it's not there the next day because if it is going to be sore, you are gone for another couple of days."
Having completed a master's in sports performance at the University of Limerick, Fennelly has become well acquainted with the mechanics of the body and attributes some of his troubles to an arthritic condition that can be common among those in their 20s.
For now he hopes he's in the clear, he hopes he can play a role as Kilkenny, the only county in the hurling or football championship without a game yet, set their campaign in motion against Wexford in Nowlan Park on Sunday.
"I'm training the last week or so, so I'd be hoping to be in the mix. Maybe I'm a bit optimistic in that," he admitted.
Wexford are a team, he feels, that work well off emotion and adrenalin and recalls the difficulty Kilkenny had in the first half of their Innovate Wexford Park meeting in 2011.
"If you're down there and you're under pressure the crowd can play its part. Wexford can go on that emotion and adrenalin. If the crowd gets behind them you are going to be in trouble. If you look back on 2011, and even last year in the league, they are definitely showing plenty of promise."
He wasn't in Croke Park for the 2004 defeat, electing to stay at home and watch it on TV like so many others that day.
"Not many travelled to that game from Kilkenny because they probably would have thought, 'This is a game we need to get over.'
"Kilkenny were a bit cold but, again, Wexford have that brand of hurling, they are able to do it and if you are not 100 per cent on any given day you could be blown out of the water."
He admits the dressing-room is a strange place without so many established players but cites JJ Delaney as the only one of the starting 15 from the All-Ireland final replay who has departed to ease any concerns.
"It is very strange to have those calibre of players missing. This year will tell a lot. Can we actually match them, can we keep going? Last year we did keep going and this year now we have to try and back it up."