Michael Fennelly has no regrets about retirement
By John Harrington
Kilkenny’s Michael Fennelly has no regrets about retiring from inter-county hurling.
Having initially decided to recommit to the cause for the 2018, the eight-time All-Ireland winner changed his mind last December when he had the time to really weigh up his options.
“Look it's a tough decision but I'm happy with it,” said Fennelly today at the launch of Peptalk’s All-Ireland Games.
“There's no doubts I think about it. I'd say it hasn't sunk in yet. I'd say when championship in particular kicks off maybe I might feel a bit down about it. But I think it's the right decision.
“Twelve years now at this stage. I suppose the background to it is that I did commit to 2018 back in November with the team.
“It was very close to the semi-final when we lost with the club. I hadn't really much time to think about it but I still obviously wanted to go back as well and that was in my head.
“I was just back doing the weights and stuff, they were going well. But then the last week or so of November, my back kind of started kicking off again. Then I'd my wedding then to organise and obviously to go to!
“We'd a honeymoon. I suppose on the honeymoon we'd time to actually get away from everything. I'd a good think about it what was ahead.”
And when Fennelly did think about what was ahead of him and the toll injuries have taken in recent years, he realised he didn’t have it within him to put his body through the grinder of another inter-county season again.
The last thing he wanted to was endure another serious injury that forced him out of the game once and for all. At least this way he could go out on his own terms.
“If you go back again six, seven months against Waterford, I came off that field that day with a hamstring strain,” he explained.
“But I also had cartilage damage in my knee, bone bruising in my knee and I had a welt in my foot that got infected as well so I was in Aut Even (hospital) the next day getting that removed.
“I was up in Dublin a week later trying to get the cartilage in my knee done and stuff. Obviously the hamstring that had a few weeks of rest anyway.
“Even coming off the field of play with three things like that, that raised alarm bells with myself. I tried to rehab that and get all ready.
“Came to the club then and ended up hurting my knee again in it. It was just a horrendous few weeks in terms of the club, no enjoyment, this is not hurling, I shouldn't even be doing this, that's the way I was feeling.
“Again, just pain and stuff with it. Even it might take 40 minutes for the knees to actually warm up. I couldn't turn or twist. I'd a real bad phase there to be honest. Probably the worst time ever in terms of my injuries I'd say nearly, in terms of how I was feeling mentally.
“To go back to Kilkenny and that intensity and that training, I just know I'm going to break down again and end up maybe with a serious injury.
“I always said I don't want to finish my career on an injury. Even though I know there's accumulation of injuries here now and probably my big decision is because of my body but at least I'm not in a cast or I'm not in a nine-month kind of rehab phase. So I'm happy in terms of that.”
While he hurled with Kilkenny he was never the type to dwell on his achievements, all the great wins and silverware that he was accumulating.
There was always another championship campaign to look forward to, another Liam MacCarthy Cup to win, and quite often another injury to rehab.
He still hasn’t had time to properly reminisce on the journey he travelled in what was a very special era for Kilkenny hurling, but he knows in his heart that what he appreciates most was the opportunity to share a dressing-room with so many great hurlers.
"Very special,” he said. “Even the fact that I played with Tommy Walsh and JJ Delaney, and I'd be very friendly with the lads, but even playing with them, I would have looked up to them when I was younger.
“When I was minor, we beat Galway in the All-Ireland final and Kilkenny were playing Cork in the (senior) final as well. I remember sitting down watching the lads and Tommy was half-forward and JJ was in the backs.
“These lads were heroes to us at the time. To play with them alone is a huge honour for me."
The challenge of being successful with Kilkenny consumed his life for the past 12 years, but Fennelly says he’s not worried about the prospect of leaving that all behind him.
He has big plans for the future, and is at a stage in his life where he is confident he has enough going on to fill the void once dominated by inter-county hurling.
“I'm not too bad about it, I'm actually fine,” he said. “I have a PhD going on at the moment. I have lecturing. I'm doing some work with Peptalk on the leadership side of things with my company as well.
“I'm enjoying all of that. I'd say maybe three or four years ago I would have worried about retiring. I worried about the social aspect and pulling myself out of that environment and where do I end up? Just out here on my own, or something?
“I always did worry about that, to be honest. I used to wonder how players dealt with it. But at the moment I think I'm happy where I am.
“I just got married at Christmas. I'm going to be surrounded more by my family now.
“My brothers and sisters who would have kids as well. I think I'm ready for that stage, with retirement, I'm actually happy.
“I would have had that fear before, but I'm very happy with where I'm at the moment.”
*Michael Fennelly was speaking at the launch of Peptalk’s All Ireland Games, an inter-company well-being challenge that allows companies all over Ireland compete against each other. For more information check out http://www.peptalk.ie/all-ireland-games. *