Cillian Buckley: 'Kilkenny camp lifted by Fennelly's return'
By John Harrington
Cillian Buckley says everyone in the Kilkenny hurling camp has been lifted by Michael Fennelly’s return to training.
Fennelly has been side-lined since rupturing his Achilles tendon in last year’s All-Ireland SHC Semi-Final replay victory over Waterford.
He’s in the latter stages of his rehab from that injury now and recently re-joined his Kilkenny team-mates at their Nowlan Park training sessions, but is unlikely to be fully fit for the Leinster SHC Semi-Final on June 11.
“He's back on the pitch with us,” revealed Buckley. “He's still not involved with any heavy work or hurling training matches. He's still working away on his own.
“I think June might come too quick for him. That's the nature of every injury. It could come right in a week or two, we're hoping so.
“He's shuffling, I'd say. He's moving anyway. He's back on the pitch, he's back in a hurling boot. That was the aim for now anyway.
“I'm not sure if it's on track for June but it's great to see him back out there. When you talk about leaders, he's head of the pack in that sense.
“Even his presence alone has lifted everything in the last few weeks.”
In the absence of Fennelly, Buckley has been relocated from his usual berth at wing-back to midfield and was one of Kilkenny’s better players during their League campaign.
The 24-year-old is now one of the most experienced players in an increasingly young Kilkenny panel, and the realisation has dawned he needs to take on more of a leadership role.
“It kind of happens unknown to yourself in way,” he says.
“There's definitely loads of names still ahead of me. Natural leaders, you don't even have to go looking for them, lads just pop up.
“You try to lend a helping hand to the younger lads, you see yourself in them. You show them the do's and don'ts and the whole thing moves along, that's the natural progression of it.
“The lads who are gone left a legacy there and left us standards to meet, it's up to us to try and get up to them and drive the younger lads with us.
“In a way it's great to see the thing moving on, you have to stand up and realise you have to lead the team a bit more maybe.”
Buckley has been encouraged by how well some new faces in the team like his midfield partner Paddy Deegan performed during the League, but overall he regards the campaign as “a failure” because they didn't win it.
They came up short against Wexford in the quarter-final, a team they’re now likely to face in the Leinster Semi-Final at what’s bound to be a full and partisan Wexford Park.
“We played a Leinster [U21] final in Wexford Park in 2013 and they filled it out that night,” recalls Buckley.
“That’ll be twice the energy that we had in Nowlan Park a few weeks ago. It’s not an easy place to go and obviously they’ll have their huge home support.
“Wexford Park would be a huge challenge if that’s the way it works out, but it’s not something to be feared either. There will be massive energy down there and you’d like to think you’d be able to feed off it.”
Kilkenny will have to improve significantly on their League quarter-final performance against Wexford if they’re to come out of Wexford Park with a win.
That day they struggled to break down Wexford’s highly organised sweeper system and were out-hurled for long stretches of the match.
“That’s what Davy brings,” says Buckley. “We’ve seen that with Clare over the years. They have this structure in place that you’d have to think of a different way to hurl, other than your orthodox 15 v 15.
“They played really well as a team and went six or seven games unbeaten. They were in the game with 10 minutes to go against Tipperary.
“It’s up to use or whoever comes out of that round-robin to try and break them down. It’s up to us to go back to the drawing board to try and figure it out.”
They might have been helped somewhat in that regard by the manner in which Tipperary hit Wexford for five goals in last Sunday’s League Semi-Final.
Kilkenny drew with Tipp when the teams met in the League this year in Thurles, but Buckley admits the reigning All-Ireland Champions remain the best team in the country.
“It’s no surprise (they scored five goals against Wexford) because I suppose with the calibre of their forwards,” he says.
“We fell victim to it here last September. It was a similar match as it was here last weekend, where Wexford were in the game for more than an hour.
“Then in come the Tipp forwards and if you take your foot off the pedal they’re capable of hitting you with three or four goals.
“We played them a few weeks ago in Thurles and we know we’re in touching range of them. They’re definitely still the best team in the country, that has to be acknowledged. They set the bar and have a serious panel of 20-25 players.
“We’re not a million miles away at the moment, but still a lot of work to be done to get back to where they are at the moment. They are a different level.”