Saturday 20 January 2018

Fennelly admits he could never match Cody's level of commitment

Previous Kilkenny manager says lure of the golf course was stronger than draw of training in Nowlan Park

Fennelly: On Kilkenny team that lost to Galway in 1987 All-Ireland final
Fennelly: On Kilkenny team that lost to Galway in 1987 All-Ireland final
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Kevin Fennelly wouldn't be human if he didn't stop to think what might have been had he decided not the step down as Kilkenny hurling manager in the weeks after the 1998 All-Ireland hurling final defeat to Offaly.

That was of course the last year before Brian Cody's arrival, paving the way for the most dominant period ever by any hurling team.

Fennelly took the job for just one season but, by his own admission, couldn't summon the commitment that has been one of the cornerstones of the Cody era. In short, his love of the golf course was just too great, he admits now.

"When I saw Brian stepping into the job I thought that he was much more suited to it than I was because, if I'd a game of golf or something on in the evening, I'd like to be there. Brian's only interested in the one thing, hurling and being in Nowlan Park," he acknowledged.

"From a commitment point of view, I work with clubs and hurling in my own way but Brian's commitment to the cause, what he's at and to stay at it as long as he did without deviating, it's his biggest strength.

"It's what sets him apart from the rest of us. I don't think I could have that commitment for as long as Brian. Regrets. I wouldn't say it never crossed my mind. Maybe for a year or two after," he accepted.

Fennelly recalls conducting his interview for the position and the surprise that greeted him when he outlined an intention to win an All-Ireland title.

"They asked me when I went into the meeting, 'What do you think Kevin?' I said, 'We're going to win the All-Ireland'.

"The lads didn't think I was serious. But I was serious. Two or three well-known fellas rang me when I got the job and asked me was I was mad. 'This team is going nowhere.' And I said, 'We should win every All-Ireland'. That was my attitude.

"They came quickly. The year after I trained them, we were hot favourites whereas the year before, we were nowhere.

"So that's how quickly it changed. The talent was always there and the talent is always there. Regardless of how poor Kilkenny are going, they are still able to hurl."

Fennelly accepts that those outside Kilkenny can feel a sense of monotony when they keep winning All-Ireland titles.

"The benchmark is there and it's easy to say the rest of them have to come up. But it's very difficult to come up. There is a big step between being where the other teams are and getting to where Kilkenny are. And it's easy for people to say, 'Kilkenny have made a statement, we have to get up there beside them'.

"That in itself is great but it can deflate teams and players and it makes it difficult for other counties to get 100pc out of their players because, if a player thinks that he's not going to win an All-Ireland, it's not as easy to keep training. It has an effect on other teams."

Fennelly was Kilkenny goalkeeper when they last lost an All-Ireland final to Galway in 1987, Noel Lane's goal ultimately the difference between the teams as Galway won by 1-12 to 0-9.

Fennelly, one of four brothers to play in an All-Ireland final for only the second time, still recalls the fall-out from that concession.

"I remember all the criticism I got for letting in one goal in Croke Park in my first All-Ireland playing senior in the position," he recalled.

"I saw Noel (Skehan) and Ollie (Walsh) letting in six goals in their first and second games with Kilkenny and there wasn't a word about it because they won. I let in a goal and I've listened to it for 25 years after! So that kinda p****d me off a small bit. I felt like saying to them, go back up the other end of the field where we only scored nine points in 70 minutes and enquire where the real problems were!"

Fennelly had played outfield as a forward in two previous All-Ireland finals, once as a substitute, and his 1987 experience has taught him to appreciate it more.

"I'd prefer outfield. You let in one goal and you're listening to it for the rest of your life. You miss one and there's not a word about it.

"Not everyone listens to it, but maybe that's my problem. I think lads are getting their own back on me because of all the mouthing I did. So maybe it's my own fault!"

Irish Independent

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