Leaving the Army, Ballyhale’s emerging talent and Shefflin’s transition from team-mate to manager

COLIN FENNELLY SPENT all of Kilkenny’s league campaign in Lebanon with the Irish Defence Forces, only returning in time to line out for the Cats in the Leinster championship. 

Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

He’ll face no such issues next year after confirming he’s left the Army and is now based in Dublin as a project manager.

Fennelly’s change of career arrived at a time when Ballyhale Shamrocks restored their place at the top of hurling in Kilkenny, meaning he must make regular trips home from the capital as the evenings get shorter and Christmas approaches. 

“I left (the Army) as soon as I came back,” he said. “I was actually going to leave beforehand and they talked me into going over, so I said I might as well get the experience before I leave. I’m glad I did it to a certain extent.

I’m working for Virtus project management in Dublin in construction. A lot of my projects at the moment are based out in Cherrywood for office blocks. It’s what I did in college, so I’m lucky to get back into it. Shane Doherty brought me on, he’s in Kilkenny and we are based here in Dublin. 

“Everything has to involve hurling, and lucky enough people are there to pick up the work. The Army was something to keep me going over the years, it did keep me in Kilkenny but it wasn’t a realistic lifelong job. There’s lads leaving in their droves and I was fortunate to be winning with Kilkenny at the time. You have to move on like everything else.”

It’s a good problem to have. Tomorrow, Ballyhale Shamrocks are back in their first Leinster final since 2014, where they face Dublin champions Ballyboden St Enda’s in the decider.

A host of youngsters have supplemented the established stars like Fennelly, his brother Michael, Joey Holden and TJ Reid. Former Kilkenny minor forward Adrian Mullen has been starring in the Shamrocks attack, while 18-year-old Dean Mason is performing well between the posts.

“(Adrian) has such a natural talent,” says Fennelly. “In every game he has played he has picked up three or four points in every game. He still has loads to learn under Henry (Shefflin), and playing with us you just keep on learning.

“He is playing out beside TJ in the half-forward line and he is coming along great in every game for us. He’s probably something we haven’t had in the last three or four years, he just fights for the ball and it’s everything that Henry probably represents through the team. Fighting for tough ball.

Colin Fennelly at the AIB Leinster GAA Club Hurling finals launch.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“(Dean) was the minor keeper, he is still only 18 and still in Kieran’s College. He is very young, we do have experienced players and we have some very inexperienced players.

“The goalie is just a massive part of the game now, but he has James Connolly there before him and he has a wealth of experience there between winning county and All-Ireland finals.

“We have Bob Alyward, he’s 41 and still down training every single night. He would’ve been older Henry, good friends with him and he’s still part of the panel. He has that love for the game and the older lads are bringing the younger lads on massively.”

Shefflin’s transition from team-mate to manager has been an interesting one for Fennelly to observe, but he’s impressed with how the 10-time All-Ireland winner has adapted.

“The way Henry comes around and talks to you and stuff, and the respect he has is a massive thing, but Henry would have had that anyway as a player. He is just a massive influence on the team.     

You would think in some instances it would be, but it’s more his leadership and he is doing that as manager as well. He always was a leader for our team, he always spoke well before games and he is doing that again, keeping it short and to the point. That’s what he is, there’s no messing about. He tells you what it is and what we have to do and that’s it.

“It’s always going to be a gamble no matter what you do in hurling, there’s no safety net regards any game or any job you take. Of course you could say for the last few years it could have been a gamble, but for him winning another All-Ireland in 2014 was massive when people were telling him to retire years before that.

“Stepping up into a manager’s position was great for him. He seen the talent was there, he seen the minor and U21 teams coming through and he just absolutely loves the club doing well. That’s what you want, you don’t want other people coming in. You see now managers getting paid in certain clubs and they are just kind of there come down, do the job and get out again whereas Henry is there for life.”

Ballyhale Shamrocks’ manager Henry Shefflin.

Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Shefflin even urged TJ and Richie Reid, Holden and Fennelly to head to Australia with the Kilkenny squad for the Wild Geese game against Galway – which was the weekend before Ballyhale’s semi-final against Naomh Éanna.

“Henry was actually all for it, we actually weren’t too pushed about it and there was a number of things that came up. We didn’t want to be letting the team or ourselves down.

Henry said, ‘Look lads, it’s been a long year and you need a break. Have your minds focused, enjoy yourselves, but keep the touch going and come back raring for the semi-final.’ That’s what’s happened I suppose and when you see that confidence from the manager, that’s what makes it easier.

“When he gives you that sort of leeway, you have that respect for him and respect his decision and what he asked you to do. It was a small thing, we enjoyed it. Myself Joey and Richie went up to the park pucking around, it was grand.

“You can go to these places and sit on the bed all day or go to the pub, but even down on the beach relaxing and pucking the ball to keep the touch going, it’s just a small thing. A lot of lads might just leave down the hurl altogether, but with the hurl in your hand you still have the touch.

“There was four of us, TJ Reid went over to Dubai for the first week, so it was myself Joey and Richie then together for most of it.” 

Originally published at 08.10

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