TJ Reid has had no chance to take a break from hurling
Fatigue could be the greatest enemy of county champions, Shamrocks of Ballyhale, as they bid to become pioneers of hurling in Kilkenny.
The southern outfit already head the Roll of Honour in the All-Ireland senior club hurling championship with seven victories to their credit. Now they are chasing another magical milestone.
Shamrocks have never put All-Ireland club wins back-to-back. In fact, no Kilkenny club has ever pulled off the feat.
To date Offaly champions, Birr (2002 and 2003), Galway’s Portumna (2008 and 2009), Athenry (2000 and 2001) and Sarsfields (1993 and 1994) and Dublin’s Cuala (2017 and 2018) are the only clubs to do the big double.
The recently crowned Leinster champions will drive into action in the All-Ireland series when they travel to Páirc Ester, Newry on Sunday (2pm) to play high achievers Slaughtneil (Derry) in the senior club hurling semi-final.
“What Shamrocks are trying to achieve is very, very difficult,” insisted former club star, Kevin Fennelly, the also former Kilkenny (1998) and Dublin (2001 and 2002) senior hurling manager.
“Their players have been on the go a long, long time, especially their inter-county players. I hope they won’t be weary after all the going.”
Fennelly, whose father Kevin (senior) was one of the founding members of the club, won nine Kilkenny senior hurling championships with Shamrocks, plus three All-Irelands, but the club never got close to back-to-back victories in the national final.
During his heyday, Shamrocks never retained the Kilkenny title the season after an All-Ireland success, so he is full of admiration for what the current crop have achieved already.
“A number of clubs in Galway put wins together, but they wouldn’t have had a long run like Shamrocks,” Fennelly reminded. “To even get this far is a massive achievement."
A lot of the Shamrocks players have been playing with Kilkenny at various levels, and the pressure of playing at that level now, especially senior, was more severe, he felt, than when he was on the inter-county stage.
“We didn’t do the same amount of training. We didn’t have to do it,” he felt. “It is much harder now from that perspective.”
He warned that Shamrocks can expect a hurling storm against Slaughtneil.
“This game is massive for Slaughtneil,” he insisted. “They have had two or three great seasons. This is the top of the pile one for them. They will be throwing everything they have into it.”
Prior to 2004 Slaughtneil, a strong hurling and football club, had never won anything major in their own county. Since 2013 they have won seven Derry senior hurling titles, plus three provincial crowns. Their football strike rate is massive too.
Shamrocks have been big achievers in Kilkenny too. In recent weeks Fennelly saw the under-21 team fail in the bid to do the three in-a-row, losing the county final against O’Loughlin Gaels.
“The players looked really tired,” he thought. “They were well beaten. The better team won. They just didn’t look fresh enough for the effort needed in a county final. But how could they be?
“That was a warning in itself for Shamrocks. The body will take so much, but there will come a day. That is the danger. If they get over this challenge, they will be doing very well.
“They will have to deal with this tiredness thing. That is one thing that could beat them. There is no doubt, they are top hurlers, but it is not always about who are the best hurlers.
“You have to be able to graft and graft. The body has to be able to take what is thrown at you on the day, and Slaughtneil will throw a lot.”
He sent a warning to the Shamrocks players to remember the day in the Kilkenny championship when Clara nearly beat them.
“I will be keeping the fingers crossed that things will work out for them,” he assured. “I would be a little bit nervous about the tiredness thing. Shamrocks have the hurlers, there is no doubt about that. Injuries come into it as well.
“Fatigue will be a big thing. Bringing the closing stages of this championship back from St Patrick’s weekend to January, I don’t see that as any help to clubs.”
In fact, he had some harsh words for the GAA and the GPA on that matter.
He wondered when county players like TJ Reid, Colin Fennelly, Joey Holden, Adrian Mullen, Richie Reid - he will fly home from the Lebanon for Sunday's match - and so on were going to get a break to recharge the batteries. They battled to the All-Ireland final with Kilkenny.
Then it was straight into the local club championship, and the provincial series after that.
“The National League will be starting shortly after the club championship finishes, so when will the players get a break,” he asked. “I think it is a disgrace that they are playing on January 5. The GPA should be ashamed of itself.
“I think the whole GAA needs to take a long and hard look at what is going on. We had a meeting some years ago and were told there was no training allowed in December. Now they are coming along and playing an All-Ireland club semi-final on January 5.
“The GAA are doing themselves no favours. I would feel very strongly about that. It is a disgrace. I cannot understand how the GPA are allowing it to happen. What is the job of the GPA I am wondering?”
He suggested Christmas was “wiped out” on the players because they were in training for a big game in early January. And he reminded - “they are amateurs”.
“I was talking to a couple of the players asking about that,” Fennelly continued. “They will have a few drinks, but they just have to mind themselves. They can’t really go out and let rip and enjoy themselves.
“There is no break for the successful players, who are usually successful at club level too. It is ridiculous.”
He reminded that a number of the Shamrocks players missed out on free trips to New York (Super 11 series), Dubai (All-Stars), plus the holiday in Florida with Kilkenny because of their commitments at club level.
“This sort of thing is just not good enough,” he insisted. “Those trips would have helped the bodies and minds recover. Fellows need to get a break.”
Newry on Sunday and the challenge of Slaughtneil was deadly serious, he insisted.
“Shamrocks can’t let them into the game,” he advised. “If they get a strong rhythm going anything could happen.”
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