Fennelly keen for Kilkenny to spread out


ALL-IRELAND SHC FINAL REPLAYThe Kilkenny midfielder hopes to make up for a frustrating performance in the drawn final, writes MALACHY CLERKIN

THE DIFFERENCE is underfoot. A game is a game and a replay is a replay but you can’t pretend the build-up is one and the same for both. For players, it comes down to practicalities and Michael Fennelly isn’t long putting his finger on what it means to be preparing for an All Ireland final in the last week of September as opposed to the back-to-school evenings of late August.

“The field,” he says. “Even the field isn’t what it was.”

This time last year, he was actually getting ready for a replay of a different colour. Ballyhale and Carrickshock tangoed on two successive weekends in the Kilkenny championship and could only be pulled apart in the dying minutes of a second mini-epic at Nowlan Park. That’s all put to one side for the minute and nobody’s even jesting about the prospect of another draw on Sunday. Not within earshot of Ned Quinn (county board secretary) anyway.

Fennelly could have ended it all himself three weeks ago. Despite putting in one of his quietest ever days in a Kilkenny jersey – he struck the ball off his hurl twice in the whole game – he had the chance to hoist what would have been a winning point in injury time.

All that stopped him was Henry Shefflin standing alone out to one side, screaming for a pass.

Considering the respective games they were having, nobody blamed him for dishing it off. “I think Henry called for it as soon as I got it,” he says. “I presumed there was somebody coming in on top of me, so I threw it out to him. I heard his voice calling out for it so the form he was hitting them in – he practically dragged us back into the game. I thought someone was closing me down so I got rid of it straightaway. But if he hadn’t called for it I would have shot for it myself.”

It had been a frustrating day for Fennelly. Much like his brother Colin whose sole meaningful action had been the late shot so brilliantly saved by James Skehill, it was a game that flowed through other hands rather than his. With the Galway midfield making hay with what ball came through the centre of the pitch, the reigning hurler of the year was unable to impose himself. He freely admits as much.

“The last day I was quite poor, to be honest. I didn’t really get into the game as I thought I would. It bypassed me at times. It was a strange game, with the fact Galway were batting the ball back 20 yards or so and the ball was flying past midfield. So you have to adjust to the game. There was a lot of running and Galway have a lot of runners. [Andy] Smith, who I was marking, is quite fast. [Damien] Hayes, [Joe] Canning is able to move, and Cyril Donnellan.

“So, the Galway lads like the running game, you are trying to track players the whole time. You ended up running around the field, not getting near the ball.

“All-Ireland final day is the day to hit top form but it doesn’t work that way every year unfortunately. Still, we’ll do what we can but from midfield up we didn’t perform and that is something we can hopefully rectify the next day. It was just the way the game went.

“It’s probably credit to Galway for stopping us playing on the day. They were better on the day.

“We need to spread it out the next day. We seemed to do a lot of bunching in the forwards and our forwards are not the biggest, so we need to spread it out and plan it better the next day.”

Happy the team who can walk away from an All-Ireland final unscathed, even as the likes of Fennelly, Richie Hogan and all but one of their forwards – two at a push – have no sort of game.

Nobody in Kilkenny doubts that it was Shefflin who hauled them through to a second game, least of all the players. Fennelly has seen plenty of days from his fellow clubman to take the breath away but this one was beyond the beyonds.

“It was probably his best performance, maybe in a couple of years. He is like a 21-year-old, running around the field. He is going for I think his ninth All-Ireland, or something, something historical. He’s taking it in his stride, he has been there more times and he is well used to it. He seems to take it in his stride and it is a huge credit to him. I know myself over the years that when the pressure comes on he takes it very, very well.

“It is disappointing when you look at it in one way because a lot of players did not perform as they should have. We’re the lads who should have taken the game by the scruff of the neck and Henry had to come out centre-forward and take it on. Any given day you don’t know who is going to hit form and on that day Henry wanted it out of everyone and he was going well. It started going well for him and it wasn’t working for other players. On any day, you can have any player coming up.”

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