John faced final decision like he faced stiffest hurling challenges

TWENTY-four hours on and there was a familiarity about John Tennyson’s life. He was out training again.

TWENTY-four hours on and there was a familiarity about John Tennyson’s life. He was out training again.

One chapter closed, if you like, but life goes on, writes John Knox.

On Sunday the softly spoken Carrickshock man brought the curtain down on an inter-county career that as boy and man has run to over 15 seasons. The past!

On Monday evening he was back in Hugginstown training with his club colleagues. The present and the future!

“My hurling life is with the club now,” John insisted when he spoke for the first time on a decision he admitted was tough after he opted out of the Kilkenny senior hurling set-up. With another National League/Championship double a possibility on the horizon the temptation could have been to hang on.

John never dabbled in half measures during a career that tested his mettle, on and off the field. He could go shoulder to shoulder with the best and toughest of them between the white lines, battling it out at full, centre-back or wherever.

When two potential career ending cruciate injuries cut him down, he battled through the dark and lonely hours to get back.

He was fully in; no half measures. Now the time has come to step off the stage.

Not competitive enough

“It was not easy, but I suppose my decision wasn’t hard,” John said in a contradictory sort of way. “I didn’t feel I was competitive enough. I have made the right decision. I thought about it long and hard. I had a great time playing with Kilkenny, but it had to come to an end some time.

“I will miss it, of course, but I am satisfied it is the right decision. I didn’t see myself getting back into the team. At this stage of my career you need to be competitive in training. If not playing, I need to be there or thereabouts. I saw no action in the National League.

“I didn’t think I was going to be competitive in the panel, and my chances would be limited. Bearing that in mind, the time was right to go.”

Last year he got into a competitive situation within the squad after a second cruciate ligament injury he admitted “knocked the stuffing” out of him. His thinking was that if he wasn’t playing, he needed to be near being on the team. He didn’t want to be there for another season well down the line.

This year he has dropped down the pecking order, he felt.

“With Kilkenny it is about being on the team, or else to be challenging hard for a place,” the 28-year-old said when he explained the thinking. “I wasn’t doing that. I had to face the truth, be honest with myself.”

Story began in 1998

For John Tennyson the Kilkenny hurling story began in 1998 in the Tony Forristal (under-14) tournament. That was followed by action in the Nenagh Co-Op (under-16) tournament.

“I have unbelievable memories,” he said of the entire journey. “I played with so many great players, from the under-age through the intermediate set-up, minor, under-21 and with the seniors as well. I covered all the grades. It is the friendships and all the memories. I had some time. I had the time of my life.

“What an opportunity, what a privilege it was to play for Kilkenny. You never take it for granted.”

He recalled when he was a young boy in the primary school in Newmarket when the Noresiders won the All-Ireland in 1992 and 1993 and the players visited with the Liam MacCarthy. That was a huge deal for him. He thought maybe, maybe some day.

“I got to live the dream,” he laughed. “It wasn’t all sunshine and roses though. There were tough and bad times, but that is sport. You take the good with the bad. I have regrets leaving. The injuries robbed me of a few years, but you have to accept things like that.

“I have had my run. I had a great time, but I have to move on now.”

The two cruciate ligament injuries are a huge part of the story. The first one cut him down in September 2007. The second was before the All-Ireland final of 2010.

“It is probably one of the most serious injuries any sports person can get,” John reflected. “The second one knocked the stuffing out of me.”

That was the season Tennyson and Henry Shefflin went into the All-Ireland final against Tipperary nursing cruciates problems with the Cats chasing the five in-a-row. Fitness guru Ger Hartman worked his magic on the pair. Tennyson got through the final, and later the county final with his club. Shefflin broke down minutes into the All-Ireland.

Surgery after final

The week after the county final John Tennyson has surgery to repair a ruptured cruciate. The surgery went well, but he picked up a bad infection afterwards. There were a lot of complications during the following year. At times he felt he was climbing one hill after another.

“Last year, in early 2012, things started to come right,” John recalled. “From May onwards I got things going again and I felt I trained well from there on. I felt I was very competitive in training. I don’t think I was too far away from the team. “Unfortunately this year I got off to a bad start. I pulled a hamstring early on. That left me behind. I missed the boat and I haven’t been able to catch up. The rest of the lads seemed to be going away from me from there on.

“I was back training on March. The League was up and running then. I couldn’t get into the team. I took stock of things and where I was in the set-up. I felt the best thing was to move on. I needed to be competitive. I wasn’t.

“I will concentrate on playing with my club now. The new challenge for me is to do well with my club. I am looking forward to giving a full commitment. I will try and play for the club the way I feel I can. That will get my full concentration from now on.”

Despite the hardship of the injuries, he felt very lucky. He said from day one with Kilkenny teams he was surrounded by good players. Coming up through the under-age set-up he was with “a right group of lads”.

He felt the pain of defeat in the under-21 All-Ireland final of 2005 against Galway. That was the only under-age final in which he was beaten with Kilkenny, he reckoned. He won everything else from the Nenagh Co-Op up.

There is a famous story about Tennyson before the 2003 All-Ireland minor final. He was only over surgery after having his appendix removed. But the warrior spirit came through, and he lined out at full-back, playing a star game.

“We were very lucky,” he insisted again. “We had a great crop of players, and I was lucky to be involved. Kilkenny were flying when I arrived at senior level. Brian Cody had won three All-Irelands at that time. The whole set-up, with the County Board and so on was great.

Best memory

“We only had to come in and train. Everything was done for you. All you had to do was come in and play. What a group of players to be involved with?”

His best memory was from the 2006 All-Ireland final, and that for a few reasons. The year before he had played at full-back, replacing Noel Hickey, who was ill. Galway beat the Cats in the semi-final. Five goals were scored and his man got three of them. The rookie full-back wondered was it all over for him before it even began.

“I thought my first year would be my last,” he laughed. “I took a bit of stick. I made a pledge to myself that I would get back. We won the All-Ireland and stopped Cork winning the three in-a-row. I picked up a bad injury in the All-Ireland semi-final and I had to work really hard to get back, but I did it.

“My father was very sick at the time fighting cancer. That was the last match he saw me play. That final will forever reamin very special to me.”

He admitted that he will miss the big days - travelling through the crowded streets of Dublin to the Croke Park; the banter with the players and all the sideshows.

“I was lucky to make that journey a good few times,” John said with joy flowing from every word. “They were all special moments, great days. I was lucky. We won more than we lost. I cherish all the days.”

His toughest opponents?

When he arrived on the senior scene in Kilkenny he was marking D.J. Carey during training.

“It was crazy,” John laughed. “D.J. Carey was the hero of every schoolboy growing up in Kilkenny in the nineties, and he was my hero too. Sure sitting down beside him in the dressing-room and then trying to play against him was unreal.”

He laughed again. He mentioned Henry Shefflin too, but he didn’t want to be go down that road.

“I played against some great hurlers, but the hardest lads I played against were in Nowlan Park at training,” John insisted. “I will have some stories to tell the grandchildren about who I played on, and I will only be talking about the training sessions in Kilkenny.”