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'To me, the provinces are gone, they’re dead' - a call for an open hurling championship draw

Michael Fennelly on the changes he would like to see made to the hurling landscape.

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

THE INTRODUCTION OF a round-robin format in the Munster and Leinster senior championships is set to have a seismic impact on the hurling landscape this year.

But recently retired Kilkenny hurling star Michael Fennelly has questioned the purpose of the format given the similarity to the Allianz league structure and feels it is time to abolish the provinces in hurling to incorporate an open championship.

Fennelly brought his career with Kilkenny to a halt in December after a stellar career.

He is in favour of the home-and-away format being implemented for the summer clashes yet feels more improvements can be made.

“I wish the year would be shorter, have a six or seven month year. The league and the round-robin – are they not the same thing at this stage?

“I haven’t looked into it a whole lot, but to me the league is like championship. Then you’ve a break of two months, and then you’ve championship again in two months.

“Why not just accumulate the games together and just have one big group or one big championship between the teams?

“We have only two provinces, one is artificial. Galway are in Leinster, but Galway are from Connacht. So to me the provinces are gone, they’re dead.

“Play home and away games, you can’t beat that excitement. I know the round-robin is like that.

“I remember my parents, they loved the league, because just say, when we were playing Clare, you’d go down to Ennis on a Saturday night and just enjoy the weekend.

“In championship then, it just ends up being a let-down, because you’ve the same teams playing each other every single year anyway. So why not just open up the whole thing and make it more exciting?”

Walter Walsh with Cathal Mannion and Johnny Coen Galway welcome Kilkenny to Pearse Stadium in May but should an open championship be brought in? Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Fennelly lectures in strength and conditioning in LIT Thurles and is well placed to judge the changes that will be required now in training schedules with the increased number of games.

“You have to build up your training load on a weekly basis and in a steady state, just to ensure you’re not spiking from one week to the next.

“You can’t be going nice and handy in training and then have a savage game. With the way the fixtures are this year, the first league game is at the end of January.

“For me, for teams to prevent injuries and to get ready for those games, those league games are like championship, you actually need to get back training in November, and get a bit of gym work in. Get a bit of mobility, get a good base of running.

“Teams will end up going back earlier and earlier. If I was a manager or a coach, I’d want my teams back at that time, because you need two months of pre-season. You might have ten weeks of training there before your first training, but you do need that, for that base.

“If you miss out on that base, you’ll end up with injuries down the line, lads trying to catch up by doing things they shouldn’t be doing.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how that works out this year. It’s going to be monitored. It’s going to be up to S&C coaches to balance that.”

Michael Fennelly looks on during the warm up Michael Fennelly missed out on the 2016 All-Ireland hurling final due to injury. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Ballyhale Shamrocks man admits that Kilkenny are in transition but has urged the younger members of the squad not to hold back in trying to a stake a claim for a place in the team.

The 2011 Hurler of the Year has revealed that he was hesitant when first joining the Cats squad and it took him time to establish himself.

“Whether I wasn’t good enough or whether it was a bit of naivety, when I came in (I was) thinking do I really challenge lads for this? I should have really went into the deep end and got stuck into it.

“I think I held myself back a bit and I don’t know why. I would have actually sent a message when I finished up in the (Whatsapp) group there with that exact message, saying basically I made a mistake when I first came in.

“I told them to just jump straight in there and don’t be holding back for a year or two or three years thinking you’ll get your place then at that time. I finished on that message, funnily enough.

Kilkenny celebrate after the game with the trophy Kilkenny's U21 squad celebrate last summer's Leinster final victory. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I would have mentioned it to the management last year as well or the year before, saying how when I was coming into the team first my mindset wasn’t right, so just to be mindful of that maybe.

“You are coming up against the likes of Derek Lyng and these, that’s who I was coming up against. People were saying to me when he’d retire I’d be in there.

“I was nearly kind of waiting for it, to be honest. I waited and then Michael Rice came out midfield and then Cha came out midfield as well and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is a nightmare’.

“You hear a lot of talk with the word potential. Potential is a good thing in one sense, but in another sense you haven’t achieved anything yet really. That’s another way of looking at it, so you have to be careful on that.

“The potential is there, they just have to make it work. Again, there’s no All-Stars as such that we would have seen before like Richie Hogan who would have been spotted when he was younger. Richie Power would have been spotted. Tommy Walsh would have been spotted.

“There’s probably no stand-out players like that, but again you don’t need that once you have a good bunch of players with good commitment, good values, and they’re looking to push themselves and improve and develop. You never know where you’ll end up if you have that.”

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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