OPPONENTS on the field of play might not surprise Michael Fennelly - but pundits are a different story.
Fennelly’s performance on Sunday saw him leave Croke Park with the Man of the Match trophy - but the Ballyhale Shamrocks man needed some convincing before accepting that the award really was his!
“It was a nice surprise - I don’t think I deserved it to be totally honest,” was the frank admission from the still shocked midfielder after the dust had settled on that All-Ireland semi-final win.
“I’m grateful to get the award, but I thought Paul Murphy and Jackie Tyrrell would have been contenders, while Henry (Shefflin) showed great leadership in the forwards,” Fennelly added. “I don’t think it was one of my best days, but I’ll take it!”
Looking around, Fennelly saw plenty of top performers on the day from a number of candidates for the individual honours.
“I think the lads mentioned were more inspirational, had a bit more of an effect on the game that helped us win it,” he said. “We’re delighted to have won, but we know there is more work to be done. We weren’t great under the aerial ball so we have plenty to work on for the next day.”
Fennelly was, of course, doing himself a disservice. Coupled with his three-point haul he also linked up well with his colleagues in both defence and attack. However, he quickly deflected the focus back to the team performance.
“At times we looked well, but at times we were a bit all over the place,” he said “Waterford tend to play without a shape which can be hard to cope with - sometimes you’re running from one man to the next, wondering who to pick up, but they’re always a tough side to play against. Luckily for us we got our goals at crucial times.”
At times Fennelly found himself back on the half-back line, then up in the forwards at others. It wasn’t what you would call a traditional midfield role.
“You have to adapt to these games and the style the opposition brings,” he said. “In midfield you’re usually up and down the field all day, but there were times I found myself back in the backs - probably chasing opponents instead of having the ball myself! - but it was necessary as the likes of Seamus Prendergast and Kevin Moran had us on the backfoot at times out there. We had to dig our heels in.”
It was tough going at stages, especially as Waterford had Kilkenny crowded at times.
“They did, especially in our forwards,” Fennelly agreed. “We like to be nice and open, and when you get crowded you can find it hard top stop that. Still, the lads dug in and showed their physical side when they had to, which helped get the scores.”
That constant drive, forever working, is a quality Fennelly believes Kilkenny will have to replicate for the final.
“We’ll have a lot more work to do if we’re going to beat Tipp or Dublin,” he said. “Tipp are the favourites - it seems everyone is looking for a Tipp and Kilkenny final again.”
If that happens, it’ll be the third year in succession the two sides have met in the final, but Fennelly refused to write off the Dubs.
“If Tipp do win it’ll be huge for the two counties, while it be big all over the country,” he said. “I think everyone would like to see that final again, but Dublin are going to be tough opposition for Tipp. We’ll just have to wait and see who comes through, then start working on our game again.”
It may be a month away, but Fennelly is already looking forward to the final.
“We have a round of club games, then we’ll knuckle down in training,” he said. “It’ll be busy but we’ll enjoy it. We’d have been delighted if at the start of the year you said we’d be in an All-Ireland final.
“All-Irelands are there to be won,” he added. “It’s going to be a tough one, but we’ll do everything in our power to try and win it.”