Tuesday 17 September 2019

Michael Verney: 'Michael Fennelly appointment in Offaly is eye-catching - but lack of experience remains a worry'

Michael Fennelly is the new Offaly manager. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Michael Fennelly is the new Offaly manager. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

What's seldom is wonderful and the appointment of Michael Fennelly as Offaly senior hurling manager has tongues wagging about hurling in the Faithful for all the right reasons.

It's been quite a while since there was any great positivity about Offaly hurling and recruiting a Kilkenny legend with eight All-Ireland medals to guide the ship forward is a great starting point for the long road ahead.

Few saw this coming and it has sparked much-needed optimism after a fall from grace in recent seasons which has left hurling in the county on the floor.

Relegation to the Christy Ring Cup – hurling's third tier – marked one of the darkest times in the rich history of a county boasting four All-Ireland senior crowns between 1981 to 1998 and it came on the back of a disastrous league campaign which saw demotion to Division 2A.

Offaly will ply their championship trade alongside the likes of Wicklow, London, Roscommon and Sligo so the only way is up under Fennelly, although expectations will be high that he has an instant impact.

Regardless of who is at the helm, promotion to the Joe McDonagh Cup and climbing back into Division 1 of the League will be taken as a given and the 34-year-old will be expected to hit the ground running from the off.

Fennelly becomes the third Kilkenny man to manage Offaly after Diarmuid Healy – who led them to the promised lands in '81 and '85 – and the late Georgie Leahy, with his standing in the game expected to have the desired effect.

Fennelly hung up his inter-county boots less than two years ago after a stellar inter-county career which saw him captain the Cats to four-in-a-row in 2009 before being crowned Hurler of the Year two years later as he regularly defied the laws of sport science and injury to star under Brian Cody.

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Offaly's hurlers have been craving a high-profile appointment of his ilk and someone to buy into with a long-term vision for the future after a remarkably high turnover of managers in recent seasons.

This decade alone there have been stints in charge for Joe Dooley (2008-'11), Ollie Baker ('12-'13), Brian Whelahan ('14-'15), Eamonn Kelly ('16), Kevin Ryan ('17), Kevin Martin ('18-'19) as well as an interim term for Joachim Kelly last year when Martin was sacked mid-championship, but it is hoped that Fennelly can bring the same stability that he had throughout his own career with Cody.

This is not an easy job by any means, however, with the Offaly county board notoriously difficult to work with in the past, so it is hoped that all resources are made available to the Ballyhale Shamrocks clubman to do his job to the best standard possible.

Apathy has set in within the county in recent times but Fennelly is expected to bring an ultra-modern approach given his extensive playing experience and his work as a strength and conditioning lecturer in Setanta College.

His lack of coaching/management experience at any level is a big worry though and while he ticks a lot of boxes, it is a shot in the dark of sorts, something which has been all too common in recent appointments with a lack of foresight from Faithful chiefs.

Three-time All-Ireland-winning minor boss Jeffrey Lynskey is believed to have been in the mix for the job before Micheál Donoghue parted ways in his native Galway last week and this will be a baptism of fire for Fennelly.

His only inter-county managerial experience was working with the Kildare footballers this year under Cian O'Neill as a performance coach but he clearly has an appetite for the challenge and to lift Offaly out of dire straits.

It is expected that elder statesmen like Shane Dooley, Joe Bergin, Conor Mahon and Colin Egan will stay on for another year and try to bring Offaly back near hurling's top table while there are some young faces ready to emerge.

The U-20 side shocked a decent Dublin outfit in Parnell Park earlier this year before performing creditably against Wexford in the Leinster semi-final so that offers hope with plenty of youth to be injected into the fold under his watch.

Crucially, club championships at all levels are still ongoing so getting business done early offers Fennelly the opportunity to attend games, become familiar with the club scene and get the chance to unearth as much talent as possible for 2020 and beyond.

It will be interesting to see the make up of his backroom team when it is revealed and whether another Kilkenny man will make the regular trip to the Faithful Fields with him as Cody's kittens continue to make their mark in management.

Henry Shefflin managed Fennelly and Co to All-Ireland club success in March while Eddie Brennan had an extraordinary debut season with Laois and former goalkeeper David Herity will be on the line again this year with Kildare.

That trio and the likes of DJ Carey are likely to eventually look to replace Cody whenever he decides to walk away but Fennelly has a lot to prove first. Hopes are high in the Midlands but the work must start now if Offaly are to become a hurling power of any kind once again.

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