Fennelly blow for Kilkenny
Retirement of star midfielder severs link with legendary four-in-a-row team and underlines size of Cody rebuilding job
Brian Cody's task of restoring his Kilkenny side to its former glories looks even more onerous with the news that former Hurler of the Year Michael Fennelly is calling time on his inter-county career with the Cats.
The eight-time All-Ireland winner has been dogged by back and Achilles tendon injuries in recent seasons but the Kilkenny boss had recently expressed hope that the 32-year-old would return for another season.
However, it's understood the Ballyhale Shamrocks clubman met with Cody yesterday afternoon to inform him of his decision before confirming the news via a statement released through the GPA where he outlined how his body had "surpassed its limits".
"I would like to announce my retirement from inter-county hurling with Kilkenny," read Fennelly's statement.
"I have mentioned on a few occasions in the past 'how your mind can get your body to go to certain places' but I feel my body has surpassed its limits at this time.
"I am very grateful to have had a fruitful 12-year tenure with Kilkenny and had the pleasure to have played with and against some of the best hurlers in the country and I owe a lot of credit to the management team over the years of Brian Cody, Mick Dempsey, Derek Lyng, James McGarry and Martin Fogarty.
"Without their understanding and patience, I would not have been in a position to continue playing for Kilkenny during some very challenging injuries and the medical team have also been at the heart of my rehabilitation and prehabilitation training. I owe them a debt of gratitude.
"The Kilkenny County Board have elected a new chairman in Jimmy Walsh and secretary Conor Denieffe and I would like to wish them all the best in their new roles. I'd also like to acknowledge the work of Ned Quinn and Barry Hickey for their relentless commitment and dedication to the Kilkenny team throughout my career."
Fennelly's retirement severs the last playing link with the squad that captured the 2006 All-Ireland title and set the Cats on the way to winning four Liam MacCarthy Cups in a row.
He endured a difficult final season having ruptured his Achilles tendon in the All-Ireland semi-final of 2016.
However, he returned to action in the qualifier win over Limerick earlier this year. His final appearance in the black and amber came in the extra-time defeat to Waterford in Semple Stadium in July.
He departs the stage having won eight All-Irelands medals, five National League titles, three All-Ireland club SHC titles, three All-Stars as well as the 2011 Hurler of the Year in a 12-year career as part of one of the most dominant teams Gaelic games has seen.
Having lost the likes of Jackie Tyrrell and Richie Power to retirement in 2016, Fennelly's retirement leaves another sizeable hole in Cody's squad as he looks to bounce back from a campaign that saw their earliest exit from the championship during his 19-year tenure.
The Cats' boss is already without Fennelly's brother Colin and defender Paul Murphy for the spring as they are on peacekeeping duty with the defence forces.
Kilkenny start their 2018 campaign on Wednesday night when they face Laois in the Walsh Cup in O'Moore Park. The Leinster Council confirmed yesterday that unlimited substitutions will be allowed in all pre-season competitions within the panel of 26 submitted to the referee on game day.