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'People shouldn’t attack the holiday or the game itself': Fennelly defends Wild Geese trip

The Ballyhale Shamrocks forward was part of the Kilkenny squad that faced Galway in Sydney.

Ballyhale star Colin Fennelly at the AIB Leinster GAA Club Hurling Finals Launch.
Ballyhale star Colin Fennelly at the AIB Leinster GAA Club Hurling Finals Launch.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THE 4-4 COLIN Fennelly put past Gorey in Sunday’s Leinster club SHC semi-final was even more impressive considering he only hopped off a flight from Australia days earlier.

The Ballyhale Shamrocks ace was part of the Kilkenny touring party for the Wild Geese Trophy game against Galway in Sydney the previous weekend.

Along with Ballyhale team-mates TJ and Richie Reid and Joey Holden, they travelled in excess of 32,000km between their provincial quarter and semi-finals. It did the foursome little harm in Wexford Park as they put the Wexford champions to the sword with a 16-point victory. Fennelly, in particular, was in devastating form for the Kilkenny kingpins, scoring his all his incredible tally from open play.

The inaugural Wild Geese game a week earlier saw the Tribesmen, 2017 All-Ireland champions, defeat reigning league champions Kilkenny in a free-taking competition at Sydney’s Spotless Stadium. 

The GAA was roundly criticised for spending money on jaunts like the Wild Geese and last weekend’s four-team Fenway Hurling Classic in Boston, as hurling continues to struggle for air in the lower-tier counties.

But Fennelly defended the concept of the trip and said the players from Galway and Kilkenny should be spared from the outrage. 

“It was definitely worthwhile,” he said. “It was a massive emphasis on the league. Other teams would be saying, ‘If you’re getting that for the league, we want to go all out’. People are going constantly to give out and complain. This is just a natural progression of the game that everybody wants a bit of something.

I don’t know the ins and outs but I’m certain the money is just a small portion of what the GAA get every single year, a small portion that us as players, say Galway as All-Ireland champions last year and we’ve won All-Irelands, get – we don’t get that much out of it and for people to complain and want to take that from us. You know, you don’t even bother with them in your lives – people who complain and give out.

“It was my first time, probably all of our first times on the Kilkenny team, in Australia. I’ve cousins and family over there that I barely ever see so it was absolutely fabulous that the GAA gave us that opportunity. The reason we don’t get to go over there is because of hurling and we want to stay home and play but the GAA gave us the opportunity and it was fantastic.”

“People shouldn’t attack the holiday or the game itself. They should just say, ‘Is there money there?’ To be honest, it’s just giving out and looking for any excuse – I don’t understand it. We all have to fight for ourselves at the end of the day.

Tempers flare in the second half Tempers flare in the second half of the Wild Geese Trophy game in Sydney. Source: David Neilson/INPHO

“We have no money in our club but we’re using our experience to bring on the young lads. We’re all working hard and have no lights. We don’t have a stand, barely two pitches and we’re trying to get a youth pitch.

“Other counties are giving out about money. You don’t need money to win games or develop players although obviously it’s an advantage.”

It’s been three years since Kilkenny last lifted the Liam MacCarthy – their longest drought since the 1990s. Fennelly is still just 29, with four All-Ireland medals under his belt. The Cats are presently ranked by the bookies as fifth favourites to go all the way in 2019, the longest odds they’ve ever been since he broke through in 2011.

It is hard when you haven’t won one in the past few years. I was just fortunate to come in in 2011 and we have been winning since then. It was a different format then because there are so many games now that you can’t really look down the line, just hope and look at the next game. It is a lot more distant than then. A lot of it is in your head as well.”

“You did take it for granted because I came in and I was winning with the club at the time and Kilkenny had just done four-in-a-row and we then won four in five years,” Fennelly continued.

“It was massive and you kept going. There was no time to look back. Now we haven’t won one for three years and you’re looking back and saying, I’d love if we could win just one more.” 

Kilkenny players lift captain Joey Holden and the Liam McCarthy Cup in celebration Kilkenny last lifted Liam in 2015. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Brian Cody’s side were the last team who put together back-to-back All-Ireland crowns in 2014/15, and Fennelly admitted he’d be surprised to see Limerick regain their title next year.

“Because of the competitiveness, I can’t really see it happening, to be honest. Maybe with Galway we thought they could do it but Limerick were absolutely amazing in the final and they’re going to find it hard to come back because others are going to want to take the top team down. That’s what going to happen all year and it will be a new task for them when teams are gunning for them every day in the league.

“I can’t see it happening and that’s probably good from the competitiveness point of view and you don’t know who’s going to win. It’s just been an amazing championship and I’m sure everyone is looking forward to next year, let alone the players.

“They could easily do it next year – along with seven other teams. So there’s no team ruled out. They’ll find it tough as any other team might just find it tougher because other teams will be looking to bring them down because they’re at the top and that’s just natural. The same happened to Galway.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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