Wednesday 20 February 2019

The last couple of years were a bonus - Fennelly

Michael Fennelly celebrates with Brian Cody after the 2015 All-Ireland final. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Michael Fennelly celebrates with Brian Cody after the 2015 All-Ireland final. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Michael Fennelly tells a story that gives some context to what he has gone through to eke 12 seasons of inter-county hurling out of his battered body.

"A soft bed will kill me, it sets off my glutes," he said by way of explanation.

"I stayed with a friend up in Belfast recently. He doesn't even know this now I think but the bed is very soft - an expensive bed I'd say but very soft.

"I ended up on the floor and after an hour realised that I wasn't really comfortable there either and got back up again. I'd say I didn't get to sleep until about five o'clock."

Last month, Fennelly, 32, handed in his gun. His was a glorious career with the top-line figures showing he won eight All-Ireland titles and a Player of the Year award in 2011.

Around that, his battle with various injuries has been well documented. His career feels like it lurched from injury to frustrating injury, punctuated by unyielding brilliance, before he was finally forced out of the game.

However, further examination reveals he did well to survive as long as he did.

"There's satisfaction," he reflected at the launch of Peptalk's All-Ireland Games, an inter-company well-being challenge that allows firms across Ireland to compete against each other.

Michael Fennelly launching Peptalk’s All-Ireland Games in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Michael Fennelly launching Peptalk’s All-Ireland Games in Dublin yesterday. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

"I think the last couple of years have been bonus years for me maybe with the injuries I have had.

"I think it's 12 years at this stage and I'd love to go for a couple of more years but my body is telling me another thing.

"And even mentally it's been draining over the last couple of years.

"The last six months in particular I never went through a stage like that. We drew a game (with the club) and then we played the following week and my knees were killing me, and we went to extra-time in that game as well, so all these things were going against me.


"Even walking in college my knees were killing me. I might train on a Friday and it would take 40 minutes for my knees to stop hurting me and that had never happened to me before. I suppose that set off alarm bells. I don't want to be crippled over the next couple of years."

Injury haunted him to the end. In his last game for Kilkenny, the qualifier defeat to Waterford last July, he reckons he picked up three separate injuries that would have meant he'd have missed the rest of the season even if the Cats had made it all the way to the final.

He was always watching the clock to some extent given that he was diagnosed with arthritis more than a decade ago. His father Mick also suffers from the condition but brother Colin has no symptoms.

"I got diagnosed when I was 22, so maybe 11 years ago," he said.

"I would have got a lot physio back then for back soreness and I was wondering what was going on. I'd always get a rub on it to sort out the pain, and then my father (Mick) got diagnosed with it.

"I looked up the symptoms and they were the exact same things I was feeling. I got blood tests and it came through that it actually was the same condition as he has. It changes over the years, it comes down to my neck and can come through my upper back and down to my lower back, and different years can have different things.

"That's at the heart of all this. And I'm very flat-footed in my feet. All that pounding going through your feet and if your body is not taking the right load, other areas of the body will get hit and the arthritis condition is in my knee and lower back.

"I have bulging discs. If I go on with the list I'd be here all day. The public and probably my own family probably don't even know the extent of some of it, and I don't want to be going on about it either.

"I think I've been fortunate that I have the last 12 years without a doubt, and I've got as much out of it as I can at this stage I think, without ending up on another stretcher."

That said, he didn't come to the decision easily. In fact, he had committed to playing in 2018 before he really had the chance to think about it.

Ballyhale Shamrocks were knocked out of the county championship at the semi-final stage and about a fortnight later, he was in the gym in Nowlan Park, preparing for season number 13 with the Cats.

He was on autopilot at that stage, preparing for the coming season as he had done for more than decade. But somewhere in the back of his mind, the thought of retirement rattled around. However, it wasn't until his honeymoon in December that his mind became clear.

"I had committed to going back to be honest. We lost the semi-final with the club and within a week and a half or two weeks we were back with Kilkenny doing our own programmes.

"It happened so quickly we didn't have time to think about it and I didn't want to step back either because people might be talking: 'am I staying?' or 'am I going?', so I went back and did the gym sessions and enjoyed being in that environment.

"Even being back in Nowlan Park, I was like, 'yeah, this is where I want to be'. But my gut was saying, 'am I really being true to myself, do I really want this?' and even when I was talking to people I found myself saying, 'yeah, I'm gone back - am I mad to be back?

"So I was nearly telling myself subconsciously do I really want this and is my body able for this?

"The honeymoon I had in December, I wasn't even planning on thinking about retiring or anything like that. It just came to me one of the nights that it was a smart move. It was time to step away."

Irish Independent

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