Colin Fennelly lays down his arms as final lap approaches
Ballyhale marksman is keen to get another couple of years in the Kilkenny jersey
Kilkenny’s Colin Fennelly in action against Johnny Coen of Galway during the 2018 hurling senior championship final replay, at Semple Stadium. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
It is a view that, if not quite elitist, would be the preserve of a fortunate few. Colin Fennelly is looking forward to a crack at a third AIB All-Ireland club title with Ballyhale but, nevertheless, he is impatient at all the league time he is missing with Kilkenny.
Speaking at a media event to bang the drum for all of the club activity in the offing in coming weeks, he realises that he could be taken up the wrong way but he advances reasons for his anxiety; he turns 30 this year and already missed a league last year while serving with the Army in Lebanon.
“It’s a huge disadvantage,” he says. “It’s hard to say that when you’re with the club and so fortunate to be in an All-Ireland semi-final but they were supposed to be bringing it back to before Christmas and have it all done and dusted but it just hasn’t been implemented yet. There are people suffering as a result, me included. I’d love to be playing with Kilkenny; it could be my last year.”
The calendar change mentioned would be a rational move to complete the club All-Irelands in December rather than leaving players hanging around for up to four months to play two fixtures.
His life has become more complicated since leaving the Army and joining construction management firm Virtus, with whom he is working on the vast Cherrywood development in south Dublin. From living and hurling in Kilkenny, Fennelly now has to organise commutes to the county for club training and thereafter, he hopes, for the county.
‘First and last,’ he replies when asked was Lebanon his first tour
He originally chose a military career because he wanted to hurl with the county and being garrisoned in Kilkenny was a major advantage as he accumulated four All-Ireland medals.
“That was the motivation. All my friends from college, they just left straight away for London, for Australia. I had a decision to make. And it was correct for me for the few years. I did fierce well with Kilkenny; that was my focus. To be fair to the Army, they gave us the time to train, to be around. At a time when there were no jobs I was lucky to get one too.”
His views on the career choice have changed over the years and it’s safe to say that the recruitment campaigns won’t be looking for his input.
“First and last,” he replies when asked was Lebanon his first tour. “I think it’s just changed up over the years with security. Paul Murphy [Kilkenny defender still in the Army] was telling me before that you could go out at weekends and see the culture, see the actual place.
“But we were literally just stuck in a camp for five months. You could go out and do your drive-throughs and all that, look at the place. But you have patrols where you are literally going 10 miles an hour for five hours. Just sitting in the back of a jeep. Literally, nothing going on. Very quiet over there. It’s not that I’m saying we wanted hassle or I wanted something to do – there’s a fine line there. But it was very quiet.
“Zero job satisfaction – compared to the job I’m in now. I did construction management in college [Cork IT], project management then; just a massive difference. You can see what you’re building, what’s going ahead. Out in Cherrywood at the moment there is massive projects going on out there.”
I don’t know what age I will be but it’s very late to be coming back into the construction industry
The intimations of mortality in relation to his career might appear odd for a man still in his 20s but Fennelly has been around the Kilkenny panel long enough to understand that time doesn’t stand still in Brian Cody’s world and he is aware of the mileage he has accumulated, heading into his 10th inter-county season.
“I would be, yeah. Because I was in and out last year and Brian wants to put the emphasis on the young lads coming through and there’s a good few of them, like Paddy Deegan who’s gone from being a starter last year to coming out centre back and really taking it in his stride.
“Richie Leahy came on and had a huge impact on the game. For myself – lads are retiring earlier because of club and county and the level it has gone to and they want young, fit players playing. You see Henry [Shefflin, now Ballyhale manager] retired at – what? – 36. You see lads now retiring at 30.”
He frets about the prospect of joining the panel as late as he did last year and points out that for either his club-mates or the Waterford county players with Ballygunner, his opponents in the upcoming All-Ireland semi-final, the league will be almost over by the time they are free of club commitments.
Working in Dublin also requires compromises, such as working on the train back to Kilkenny and catching up on Saturdays but Fennelly believes that it was time to prioritise his professional career.
“It was my decision to do it and I didn’t want to be doing it after I retire at 31 or 32 – I don’t know what age I will be but it’s very late to be coming back into the construction industry after taking such a break. It’s a decision I had to make myself and I had to make it work best and making excuses about it isn’t going to get me on the team.”