Michael Fennelly endured a lot of soul searching before giving up the security of a full time job to follow his dream in sport.
The Kilkenny star was out of the education system for over five years when he decided to return and study for a Masters degree that could lead him back to full time employment in sport.
“It was a tough decision, but I am glad I made it,” the 28-year-old explained when he spoke to the ’People about his new career path which will take him to Australia next month to study aspects of Australian Rules football.
For over two months the Ballyhale Shamrocks man will walk in the footsteps of the professionals as he completes his work for a Masters in Sport Performance which he is doing at the University of Limerick.
There is a growing interest in the sports/science area at all levels in Ireland and beyond and Carl Lacey, the Donegal footballer, has been accepted on to the UL course next year, apparently.
Fennelly’s season was finished by an ankle injury suffered initially in a club game early in the season and then exacerbated while on inter-county duty, so his energies of late have been on his studies.
Michael Fennelly, who holds an Honours Degree in Business Studies, worked for five years with the Ulster Bank based in Kilkenny City. He was happy, but the idea of getting a full time job in sport was gnawing away at him.
It was a brave decision to give up a good, secure job, it was suggested to him.
“It was,” he admitted. “A lot of people said that to me and said to make sure I was certain about what I was doing. To be honest, it was on my mind a lot. I was thinking about what should I do. The more I spoke to people the more I was encouraged to go for it if it was what I really wanted.
“Sport is something I really enjoy. If I had stayed in the bank another couple of years I was probably there for life. I wanted to try something I liked, if only to see would I be able for it. It was a big jump, but it has worked out so far.
“I am enjoying it. The exams went well. I am working on the thesis now, so fingers crossed it will all work out.”
The trip to Australia will incorporate a lot of work with the Sydney Swans AFL squad, seeing how they incorporate the Global Positioning System (GPS like the guidance systems used in modern cars) technology into their training and development programmes.
GPS can produce a mountain of information on the performance of individuals during training and games, all games. The technology has been embraced by professional soccer at the highest level, and this season the Tyrone footballers used it, but it has not been introduced to hurling yet.
Fennelly’s work may change all that. Studies to date have shown that the information produce about players using the GPS system - in terms of fitness, energy lags in matches, how much tackles and so on can take out of a player - could be useful to managers/trainers/coaches in all sports to help map out training regimes. The information is so detailed managers/coaches/trainer could use it not only to formulate a training programme for a team, but for individual lines within a team (half or full back lines), for example.
His thesis on the gathering and use of GPS data will be applicable to hurling, he felt.
Currently there is no detailed paper on GPS information as it might be adapted in hurling. While Fennelly’s work may not unique, it could open the door into a whole new world of information which could influence attitudes to training and so on about the ancient game.
“It will be very relevant to hurling,” Michael said. “My work will be specific to hurling. It won’t be ground-breaking, but it should be interesting to County Boards, clubs and managers of hurling teams. It could form a basis for trainers to work out training programmes at all levels.
“This sort of thing is getting bigger within the GAA,” he continued. “Different counties are taking an interest. I would be hoping that there might be interest in the GAA in the long run. There are a lot of Centres of Excellence being build around the country, one in Waterford and another centre for sport in Kilkenny, for example, so you would be hoping something might open up in that area in the long run.”
When he walked away from full-time employment he knew finances would be tight. Statsport, a company with bases in Newry and Dundalk IT, are interested in his work and are providing support. Lahart’s Garage, Waterford Road, Kilkenny helped and gave him a courtesy Skoda Yeti car.
“These are exciting and challenging times for me,” Michael smiled. “I have been a while without a regular income, so I am looking forward to getting back to earning a living.
“The Masters is something I enjoyed doing. It would be great if I got an opportunity to work in the area in the future. I think sport will be my future.”
The Fennelly file
Michael Fennelly (28) has been part of the Kilkenny senior hurling panel since 2006. He is currently nursing an ankle injury. He won’t be back playing until next year.
Earlier this season he scored two wonderful goal when the Cats roared to victory over Tipperary in the National Hurling League final. Within weeks he was laid low by injury and his season was stop/start after that.
The high point of his career to date was the 2011 season when he was honoured as an All-Star and he also won the Texaco Hurler of the Year award. He has won six senior All-Ireland medals; 4 National Leagues; 2 All-Star awards; 2 under-21 All-Irelands and 5 SHC with Ballyhale Shamrocks.