IT’S THE GAME nobody expected to happen.
The first replayed All Ireland hurling final in 53 years, but as the smoke cleared on Galway’s dramatic leveller in game one, many men appeared happy to be given another bite at the cherry.
And not just those in maroon who had just been spared by the nerve of Joe Canning.
“The last day I was quite poor, to be honest.” Kilkenny midfielder Michael Fennelly said as he sat in Langtons, in the heart of Kilkenny City last week.
His venue of the day would have been a markedly different place than the heaving scene on September 9, when last year’s hurler of the year says the inhabitants would have watched “a strange game” made all the stranger by Fennelly’s conspicuous absence.
“I didn’t really get into the game as I thought I would. It bypassed me at times.” He said matter-of-factly, before elaborating.
“It was a strange game, the fact Galway were batting the ball back 20 yards or so and the ball was flying past midfield, so you have to adjust to the game.
“There was a lot of running and Galway have a lot of runners, (Andy) Smith who I was marking is quite fast. (Damian) Hayes, Canning is able to move, and Cyril Donnellan. So, the Galway lads like the running game, you are trying to track players the whole time. You ended up running around the field, not getting near the ball.”
He wasn’t literally salivating at the prospect of erasing the first final from memory, but it’s not difficult to imagine him chomping at the bit in the Croke Park tunnel this Sunday.
The 27-year-old refused to accept a simple explanation for being off the pace. Though he received some medical attention pre-match, he brushed it off as, “ a small dose.” and added, “everything was fine, to be honest. I was in good health, so I was. I had a good sleep the night before, so I was in good shape.”
Having ruptured his ankle ligaments in the League final, the Ballyhale man was always going to stay on his feet as long as they would allow him. With a 12 week prognosis he was confident of being available to Brian Cody when Croke Park appeared on the horizon, but his planned early return failed. He was forced to be patient with the injury which ruled him out of all fitness training.
Fennelly in the wake of the injury sustained against Cork in May. ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Consequently, Fennelly says he “started from scratch” in mid-summer when his rivals and team-mates were eight months into a carefully planned schedule. He described his fitness level as: ”Probably not as good as it could be, but I’m feeling fresh and I’m feeling good. It’s about putting in a good hard 70 minute display.”
bout his ankle, he added: “There’s a bit of stiffness in it. I don’t have full movement in it yet and that will take another couple of months. It’s still strapped. I completely ruptured the ligament, it was worse than a break. I didn’t break a bone, but I ruptured the deltoid ligament so that was fairly serious. That’s the ligament that keeps you standing up.”
An extra three weeks of training and strengthening will do the domineering midfielder absolutely no harm whatsoever. While his contemporaries will have to rev up towards one last game at the end of a long season, he will relish the second chance to prove his worth. He’s not alone in black and amber ranks:
“Straight away (after the drawn final) we were thinking about three weeks time again, so we just have to get the heads right and not leave a week wasted, or even four, five days wasted and just get right again. We are happy enough in one sense that we are getting another crack at it and hopefully it will be a better performance the next day.”
Over half a century on from the last All Ireland hurling final replay, there are fresh aspects to be considered. The simple practice of looking into the sky and spotting the angle of a ball’s descent becomes a different skill when county training goes a little closer to Halloween than normal.
Kilkenny have opted to avoid the use of floodlights. Instead the entire panel will put their day job on the back-burner so they can make it to rush-hour training in pursuit of the goal which is an instinct ingrained in every child in the southern reaches of Leinster.
“We are just training a bit earlier, training at 5.30-6 o’clock, so we get in our one-and-a-half hour session before 7.30pm, and there is still a bit of light at that time. Even at this stage there is not much training to do in three weeks, just keeping fresh really and keeping our mind on the game.
“That’s the key really.”