BACK in the winning routine, back in the team – Sunday was a day of positives as far as Michael Fennelly was concerned.
The Ballyhale Shamrocks man was restored to the midfield role that earned him the Player of the Year award last season, something that paid off as Kilkenny earned their place in the All-Ireland semi-finals thanks to a good win over Limerick.
“I was delighted to get that game under my belt,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d last the 70 minutes – at the start of the game I thought if I got to half-time I’d have been happy enough as I hadn’t played in three months.
“It was a good game to come back in, especially in the second half,” he added. “We got the momentum which can bring you through a game. Fitness goes out of your head completely – you just keep going and going. From my point it was a case of getting stuck in from the word ‘go’ – keep chasing and harrying, sticking to the basics.”
Getting his starting place back marked the end of a frustrating time spent on the bench since suffering his ankle injury in the League final against Cork.
“It was painful watching from the sidelines for the last while,” he admitted. “You’re stuck there, you can’t come on – you don’t even feel like part of the team because you can’t even tog out. It’s great to get back in the jersey.
Out for good spell
“Michael Rice was also out for a good spell, while J.J. Delaney was back in the side today,” he added. “We had a few injuries there but lads have been coming back at the right time. Brian (Hogan) was missing on Sunday – he’s a big loss – but hopefully we’ll have him back the next day. Every team gets knocks, but hopefully we can stay injury-free between now and the semi-final.”
Fennelly is only looking at the positives from now on (“Hopefully we’ll have a good part to come yet!” he quickly replied after being asked about missing the best part of the year with injury).
“What’s gone is gone, that’s the way I’m looking at it,” he said. “I’m just looking forward now, looking ahead to the semi-final.”
They might be concentrating on future games, but Fennelly admitted that Kilkenny were looking over shoulder at Limerick for long spells in Sunday’s quarter-final.
“They were really close in the first half,” he said. “At stages they were getting points, picking off frees while we weren’t going like we normally do.
“Things were a little nervy at half-time, but we said we had to stand up and show that we wanted to win the game.
“We needed a big game after the Galway loss,” he said. “Limerick are a young side, a coming team. A lot of their players were 19, 20, 21 years of age – I don’t think I made my debut until I was 21, 22. They’re a talented team who gave us a hard game. We knew they were a fast side – the last day against Clare they got some unbelievable points. It was great to get such a hard game.
“As players, we said we had to give everything in the second half,” he added. “If you ran out of diesel, put your hand up and come off – empty the tank, which is what lads did. The selectors made changes too, which is what it’s all about. That’s why we have a big panel.”
Great ball winner
And one member of that panel, T.J. Reid, proved to be an influence when introduced for the injured Richie Power just before half-time.
“T.J. is a great ball winner, great in the air and some player to get you a few scores and move the ball around,” said the 2009 captain. “When he’s on his game he’s unstoppable. It was great to see him back – he would have been disappointed from the Galway game – so when he got his chance he played well.”
Kilkenny will have to wait and see how Power fares in the build-up to the semi-final, but his injury is another chapter in the story of 2012 for the Cats.
“It just goes to show that it’s a panel game,” Fennelly said. “Every county has been saying it. For us, the perfect example of that is how T.J. came in at half-time and took over the game in the forwards. You have really good lads who can come in and take on the roles expected of them – that’s key.”
And there’ll be more of the same expected from the players when they take on Tipp on August 19.
“It’s going to be a huge task, but it’s something to look forward to,” said Fennelly. “Those big games, hard matches, are the ones you want, the ones you look forward to. The crowd love it too – there was a great atmosphere in Thurles for the quarter-finals, but it’ll be the same in Croke Park for the semi-final, which will be a massive day for two good teams. We have three weeks to prepare, so we’ll be getting stuck into training.”
As ever, there’ll be no need to motivate the players.
“We’ll be as hungry as ever for that game, but so too will Tipp,” he said. “Last year we wanted to prove a point (having lost the 2010 All-Ireland); maybe we’ll have to do it again, but they’ll be saying the same. It has the makings of a great game. They have played well but haven’t peaked yet so there’s plenty at stake.”