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Retiring from Kilkenny - 'It was hard to get the words out, it was hard to tell him to be honest'

Michael Fennelly brought his Cats career to an end in late December.

EIGHT-TIME ALL-Ireland winner Michael Fennelly believes he has made the right decision in pulling the plug on his Kilkenny hurling career after changing his mind on staying involved with the squad for the 2018 season.

Noel Connors and Michael Fennelly Michael Fennelly played his final game for Kilkenny last July against Waterford. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Fennelly announced his retirement in late December after a glittering career with the Cats but had initially committed to playing this season when he started a gym programme with the squad last November.

The 32-year-old has been plagued with injuries in recent seasons and subsequently changed his mind when considering the demands of another campaign with Kilkenny.

Performing that U-turn played on his mind when it came to informing Brian Cody of his decision.

“The background to it is that I did commit to 2018 back in November with the team. It was very close to the semi-final when we lost with the club. I hadn’t really much time to think about it but I still obviously wanted to go back. I was just back doing the weights and stuff, they were going well. Even being back in Nowlan Park I felt great to be back in there.

“I got away from that for December and had a think about it myself. I’d my wedding then to organise and obviously to go to! On the honeymoon we’d time to actually get away from everything. I’d a good think about what was ahead.

“If you go back again six months against Waterford, I came off that field that day with a hamstring strain. But I also had cartilage damage in my knee, bone bruising in my knee and I had a welt in my foot that got infected as well so I was in Aut Even (Hospital) the next day getting that removed. Even coming off the field of play with three things like that, that raised alarm bells with myself.

Peptalk All-Ireland Games Initiative Launch Michael Fennelly was speaking at the launch of Peptalk’s All Ireland Games, an intercompany wellbeing challenge that allows companies all over Ireland compete against each other. To get your company signed up check out http://www.peptalk.ie/all-ireland-games. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

“To go back to Kilkenny and that intensity and that training, I just know I’m going to break down again and end up maybe with a serious injury. I always said I don’t want to finish my career on an injury. At least I’m not in a cast or I’m not in a nine month kind of rehab phase.

“I was home on the 27th, met him (Brian Cody) on the 28th. Again I just said I was 100% sure. It was hard to get the words out, it was hard to tell him to be honest because I’ve a lot of loyalty to him as well and again I did commit to 2018 as well.

Michael Fennelly and Brian Cody Michael Fennelly and Brian Cody after the 2016 Leinster senior hurling final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“That was the one thing that was holding me back maybe. I felt I’m going to be letting him down. But I got the words out thank God. We had a good chat for an hour, bits and pieces on the past, the present and the future. It was (a) good chat.

“Obviously over the last six, seven, eight years in particular we would have got quite close in terms of my injuries, talking to him at a training session in terms of how I am and stuff. He’s been very good to me.

“It’s disappointing to leave that environment, that culture. I’d say it hasn’t sunk in yet. I’d say when (the) championship in particular kicks off maybe I might feel a bit down about it. But I think it’s the right decision.”

Michael Fennelly goes off injured Michael Fennelly ruptured his Achilles tendon against Waterford in the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final replay. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Similar to his former Kilkenny team-mates Richie Power and Henry Shefflin, Fennelly is retiring after a career marred by injury travails. He admits that he is conscious of the impact those knocks could have on him in later life.

“It’s something I have to watch. I have an arthritis condition at the heart of all this, which has probably caused a lot of these problems. It’s something I’ll have to manage.

“That’s why probably as well in 2018, I want to spend more time with family and stuff. Go to a concert maybe and do bits and pieces, plan a summer holiday.

“And even with kids as well coming down the line, hopefully my body will be alright. I’d say it will be to a degree. Derek Lyng had a hip operation there lately, he had hip problems the last couple of years. It seems to be part and parcel of it now to be honest, which is unfortunate but that’s just the way it is.”

Despite being part of eight All-Ireland senior triumphs, it is the latter successes that are cherished most by Fennelly. 2010 was the first time he started an All-Ireland senior final after being sprung from the bench in the 2006 and 2008 deciders.

inpho_00391983 Michael Fennelly captained Kilkenny to victory in the 2009 All-Ireland final. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

That was the catalyst for Fennelly establishing himself as a pre-eminent figure in the game.

“It was a big step up. From U21 to senior, it’s like 10 to 12 steps. It’s not one step up. I think the physicality in that is a huge thing. I needed to get bigger and stronger especially around the midfield area. That took a bit of time to get it right. I do have disappointments over that.

“People talk about the five-in-a-row, were you disappointed losing the five-in-a-row? I couldn’t care less about the five-in-a-row because I missed the 2006 final (and) the 2008 final. I won’t say it annoys me but I’d rather be playing in it to be honest.

“2011 and 2012 mean a hell of a lot more to me. To be fair in the 2006 All-Ireland, I was warming up in the last few minutes and there was a point in it. I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, if I come on here now and make a mistake and we lose.’

Michael Fennelly with the Liam McCarthy Fennelly celebrates the 2011 All-Ireland final success for Kilkenny. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“You’d have fear like that but again I would have loved to have come on and played just some part in it.

“I’ll speak for all the subs that day and say that I’d say we lived through every second of that game because Cork were going for three in a row. We played every part in terms of watching it. Our training sessions were massive so everyone contributed too. But you can’t beat playing and being on the field.”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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Fintan O'Toole

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