Thursday 14 December 2017

Fennelly aims for another miracle recovery

Kilkenny hurler Michael Fennelly. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile
Kilkenny hurler Michael Fennelly. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile

Michael Verney

As Michael Fennelly lay in Semple Stadium's medical room, he fixed his gaze on a nearby television showing the thrilling finale of Kilkenny's epic semi-final replay victory over Waterford and prayed that he might rejoin his colleagues on the first Sunday in September.

Fennelly was having a stormer, alternating between midfield and centre-forward, when he pulled up lame on the hour mark, with the appreciative Thurles crowd giving him the ovation his stellar contributions in black and amber deserve as he was stretchered off.

As a lecturer in nutrition and coaching with Setanta College, the 31-year-old knew his final place was in serious jeopardy when he "heard a pop", but he still held some hope before reality struck.

"I knew it was bad. It was a pretty emotional time when it did happen, you're in maybe a bit of shock as well. I suppose there is a small bit of hope that you can play," the Sure GAA ambassador says of game's immediate aftermath.

"There probably was a glimmer of hope that maybe it's okay but I went back into the dressing-room from the medical room and the physios had a quick look at the back of it. There's a little bit of a dent in it or a dip and that normally suggests a rupture. They didn't say anything but I knew by their faces."

A scan revealing a ruptured Achilles tendon confirmed everyone's worst fears and with an operation to come on Monday, Fennelly faces six weeks in cast and on crutches before a similar period in a protective boot.

The 2011 Hurler of the Year has been blown away by the nationwide support; he says the fact that he's going to miss Kilkenny's three-in-a-row bid hasn't really hit him, but he knows it's "not going to be a good day".

While the Ballyhale Shamrocks powerhouse is well accustomed to playing through the pain barrier, six days between two attritional contests eventually took their toll on an injury-ravaged body.

"There was a lot of fatigue still in the body after the drawn game, there was an awful lot of running and chasing so Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, it was the Wednesday or Thursday by the time I was coming around in terms of feeling back to normal," he says.

"My Achilles was hurting me in the first game and in that week it wasn't great but normally you have pains and aches and you get over it and even my left hamstring, I still think that's still not right.

"It is something you get used to. You have to just put it to the back of your mind and drive on or else don't play, that's the option really, and it has been like that the last couple of years too so it doesn't really change."

After regularly commenting that such an injury could signal the end to his playing days, Fennelly is optimistic of getting back "playing a bit of sport come February/March".

His powers of recovery are unparalleled and by no means is the epitaph of his Kilkenny career already written.

"That is always the plan," he says when asked if he'll return next year.

"Every year you are coming back into January training, or even December so your head switches to that straight away.

"At the moment I just need to get this right and I need to see how the recovery phase goes.

"I'm hoping the surgery does go well and I have no hiccups and we will see then in February or March.

"I have other things going on with my body, my back is still an issue and the hamstring and so forth, so it is not just the issue with my Achilles."

A fairytale send-off like former team-mates Henry Shefflin and JJ Delaney got is far from a guarantee, and he's braced for that.

"I'd like to do that but again I am not a fool either. I said it before that an injury will probably finish me. I've picked up such a large amount of them in the last few years that it probably will be an injury that will finish me," he says.

"Hopefully not, hopefully I will go out on a high but there is no harm in thinking of the worst case scenario, and that would be it."

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