Monday 27 January 2020

Fennelly hints final could be last hurrah in Ballyhale colours

Ballyhale Shamrocks' Michael Fennelly. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Ballyhale Shamrocks' Michael Fennelly. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

The January cold is starting to set in but such is the swell of autograph and selfie hunters in Newry's Páirc Esler that Michael Fennelly has hardly moved from the spot he was in when the final whistle went.

After seeing off a dogged and talented Slaughtneil, Fennelly is gearing up for yet another All-Ireland final. But time waits for no one, not even the likes of Fennelly. And he hinted that Sunday week's dance in the big house with Borris-Ileigh could be his last.

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Between trying to keep himself right for the club and giving his role as Offaly manager enough time he's being dragged from pillar to post.

The day before he lined out for Ballyhale, Fennelly was in Birr to watch his charges put eight goals past Meath and book their spot in the Kehoe Cup final. It's busy but with the All-Ireland final in a fortnight he knows the load is about to get a lot lighter.

"It's not too bad, I find it hard to switch off," Fennelly said last Sunday of his schedule. "We had a game yesterday, and even yesterday evening until eight or nine I was doing stuff with Offaly.

"Even though we are going well, I'm still just thinking of different things, different teams and different ways of lining out so I probably need to just switch off a bit more from that and try to balance both.

"But look, it's working okay. Offaly is going okay. We are going okay with the club so, thankfully, it is coming to an end with the club, to be honest. The last two weeks now, that possibly might be it now for me but we'll see - we'll weigh it up."

Fennelly, who turns 35 in a few weeks, has been around the block more than once in his hurling career. Eight Celtic Crosses with Kilkenny and four All-Ireland wins with Ballyhale mean he knows what does and doesn't work for players. And he believes this year's schedule for the club championship was a disastrous one.

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"I don't think it's a runner to be honest. Christmas is a time to switch off for a week or two, but you don't even get to do that anymore now. If it was in the middle of January a least you would probably have two weeks to prepare for it, so it's too early to be honest. Initially, I would have thought, 'Yeah, it's not too bad,' but from doing it now, the practicality of it is not there.

"Your Christmas is cancelled, basically, because you are mentally switched on. Christmas Day you barely have a glass of wine with your dinner because you've got training the next day and we barely trained over Christmas to be honest.

"Henry (Shefflin) kept us fresh, he kept us with our families as much as possible but, mentally, you are switched on - you can't actually chill out and relax and meet up with friends or family.

"You are trying to get to bed early, you are minding yourself, trying to get to the gym. Mentally, it's tough."

Shamrocks were priced at 1/33 to win on Sunday but it wasn't until Colin Fennelly plundered his second goal deep in injury-time that they secured a place in the final.

Surprises "There were no surprises," Fennelly reflected. "You have Carlow teams, Westmeath teams, Down and Derry teams. At club level, especially, everyone is putting it in, and anything can happen on any given day.

"So no surprises for us but we got through today, thank God. Hopefully there's no little injuries and we can assess it now in the next day or two and get planning for the club All-Ireland. But, yeah, it's a bit surreal at the moment to be back there again."

For Slaughtneil, there was yet more disappointment in the All-Ireland series. Between football and hurling the club have lost four semi-finals and two national deciders over the past few seasons. But Chrissy McKaigue has vowed that they will return.

"We knew we'd done the work, we knew we have good hurlers. We knew the age profile of the team was getting probably more experienced and better, so we knew we were going to be competitive," he said.

"We weren't shocked this time. We were maybe a bit shocked the last time against Na Piarsaigh but we weren't shocked today. Towards the end, in fairness, some of the scores Ballyhale nipped off from play and from frees, there wasn't maybe much we could do.

"You've just got to accept that, we've got to get better and we'll try our best to do that."

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