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Life Has Changed For Colin Fennelly Since Inter-County Hurling Retirement

Life Has Changed For Colin Fennelly Since Inter-County Hurling Retirement
By PJ Browne Updated

"It's not something we had planned," says Colin Fennelly about his role in TJ Reid's miracle goal against St Thomas' last month. Instead, it was down to the instinct which comes with years of having played hurling with Reid.

The rapport between the two Ballyhale forwards was vital during the final moments of the All-Ireland hurling semi-final. With the three minutes of injury time up, and Ballyhale trailing by two points, Reid stood over a free which would be the last play of the game. Fennelly knew he had to make the situation as awkward as possible for the St Thomas' defenders.

"I'd know TJ inside out, and he knows me inside out," Fennelly says.

"We've played with each other for years. He was just staring at me before the shot. I remember just putting out my arms as wide as possible to make it as hard as possible for the defenders to see. He struck it right at us. I actually barely saw it going in, that was more because the keeper came out in front of me, I was watching him. The ball flew past us into the goal.

"It was only in 2021, I think we were playing Bennettsbridge. They were beating us, it was a league game. They were beating us right through. TJ was 30 yards out this time. And he just put top spin on it and it went in top corner. I think it might have taken a deflection. But he has that skill level where he's able to do this kind of thing, and he's done it over the years. There's no better man to be standing over it."

9 February 2022; Hurler Colin Fennelly of Ballyhale Shamrocks, pictured ahead of one of #TheToughest showdowns of the year, as Ballyhale Shamrocks face Ballygunner, Waterford in the AIB GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Final this Saturday, February 12th at 3pm. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

After the game, Reid revealed he'd soaked his hurley in a bucket of water the night before the match to give the bas more weight.

"I think TJ goes into a lot more detail than what we would," Fennelly says with a smile.

"Talking to Joey (Holden), he puts Vaseline on his boots at the moment, so the water doesn't seep in, but maybe he just needs to buy a new pair of boots!"

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In the Ballyhale dressing room, there was as mixture of relief and excitement.

"I think we brought it a bit too close to the wire," says Fennelly.

"We had a similar match against St Rynagh's that it went down to the wire as well. We had the extra-time, we actually came out on top there. Just the fact that we were well beaten throughout the whole game, and to come out on top with two goals in the last 10 minutes, it was just a sigh of relief. On top of that then, the excitement of knowing you're in another All-Ireland final. It was brilliant.

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"It's the small things, it's the small changes that make a massive difference. All the hurling is there. All the preparation is there, training. Everything is done.

"It's just on the day, against Thomas' we weren't hungry enough to win the breaking ball. And because of that then, we couldn't play our game. It's just that small thing. Obviously it's massive to win that breaking ball.

"We were missing Ronan Corcoran in midfield. People didn't talk much about him before the game, because he's not in the county team. But he has played a massive role for us over the years. And he is a huge loss. He was man of the match in the county final, and he gets through so much workrate in a game and picks up a lot of loose ball. We missed him in that game."

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27 July 2019; Colin Fennelly, left, and TJ Reid of Kilkenny celebrate following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Kilkenny and Limerick at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Fennelly is three months on from confirming his inter-county retirement. (He had opted out of Brian Cody's panel for the 2021 season.) It's also several years since he left the Irish army. He now works in construction, and was interviewed via a video call from a building site.

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'It's about not letting hurling affect your work'

"Work comes first, at the end of the day," he says.

"You have to do your meetings, be on-site, and it's about not letting hurling affect your work. But the joys of it... I got the train up this morning, 6:15 to 8:00 to be up to Dublin. You can catch up on work on that, the odd Saturday morning, do two or three hours. And you have that flexibility which is great too with our job.

"I absolutely loved playing with Kilkenny. And I'd love to be still there, but that enjoyment wasn't there. And it's there with Ballyhale. You could see from the Thomas' game and stuff, we are enjoying it. The final whistle in that Thomas' game, it meant everything to us. The excitement in people's faces, you see that we are all enjoying it.

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"I think with county, you're a lot more conscious. We do the same amount of training and the same amount of gym with both Ballyhale and Kilkenny, but it's the things outside of it. You don't have to watch your sleep as much, you don't have to watch your diet as much and it's those small key things.

"I think there's a lot more pressure when it comes to Kilkenny then when you're playing - you think a lot more about it - you get tired and overwhelmed from it all and certainly since I've finished, it has been a lot more relaxed and enjoyable.

"But that's what comes with playing with Kilkenny. You're at the top and you're there to be dragged back down as much as possible from other teams. We were at the top for long enough and that time ran out I suppose."

On Saturday, Ballyhale aim to win their third consecutive All-Ireland hurling title when they face Ballygunner at Croke Park.

"No matter what game you play, it's the 50:50 balls that you have to win to come out on top," says Fennelly.

"That's why we were lucky the last day. But even the last day, the fact that we stayed with Thomas' is a show of character. We could easily have been down by a lot more. It was just keeping in touch, keep tipping away.

"Ballygunner, their biggest thing is the retaining of the ball. They're just well able to turn back, feed it back and give a better ball. We've seen that in plenty of other matches. They'll certainly be a different test."

The clash is part of a double header at Croke Park on Saturday, with the AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Club Championship final also taking place at 5pm and will see Kilcoo, Down, and Kilmacud Crokes, Dublin, do battle for the AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Club Championship crown. Both games will be broadcast live on TG4, while tickets are also available now on www.gaa.ie/tickets/.

See Also: 13 Years After Dublin Career Ended, Mark Vaughan Set For All-Ireland

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